The relationship between mother and daughter, father and son, even father
and daughter is quite often explored in literature. However, it seems as
if the relationship you read about the least is that between a mother and
a son. (I know as I write this someone will then produce copious examples
proving me wrong — but I’m going with this idea anyway).
The main reason for this disparity is that we as the male species are
programmed early on that a display of any emotion is considered a weakness
and God forbid if you are ever labeled a “Mamma’s Boy” on the playground.
Your life becomes hell. So early on we learn to deflect our emotions
particularly when it comes to mother, unless of course, if, in the old
days, you were getting a tattoo.
As a former wedding DJ, I used to see examples of this lack of emotion
quite frequently. There would always be the “Father-Daughter Dance” at the
reception played usually to schlock-infested tunes like “Daddy’s Little
Girl” or “Butterfly Kisses”. From there, an attempt would then be made to
get the groom to dance with his mother which never had quite the same
effect. Most guys (who usually were uncomfortable dancing to begin with)
would begin feeling uncomfortable about 30 seconds into the song, which I
would always cut mercifully short anyway. The other problem was that there
just wasn’t a good song to capture the moment. In fact, I tried to put
together what I thought would be the perfect “Mother-Son Dance”. It was
called “The Love of a Mother” and it lasted about 60 seconds. It also was
more of a waltz than a slow dance, as guys just don’t like slow dancing
with their mothers. The song also avoids saying “I love You” per se,
something guys simply just choke up when doing.
As a mother’s son myself, I know firsthand the feelings that guys have
towards their mommas. I recall going into work one day at my old job at a
radio station, where I used to the do the news. I told my mother that on
this day I going to be a DJ for about 30 minutes. My mother then requested
a song —
“Always On My Mind” which I, of course, would not play opting instead for
“Louie, Louie”, I believe.
I had a good relationship with my parents and caught massive abuse in
college and post-college in that I lived at home during that time. But I
got along well with my folks, who didn’t care if I stayed out all night,
just as along as they had some semblance as to my whereabouts. Sure we had
our usual parent-child conflicts, but if I wanted to throw a party they’d
be there helping me tap the keg and then clean up the the next morning too. No doubt I benefitted from the
fact that I was the youngest and my parents were so much more relaxed in
their parenting by the time I was in college. I was an only-boy too, but
that’s a different story.
My mother passed away 20 years ago on October 4 and I can tell you that it
seems like a long time ago. I mean I have now lived almost half of my life
without her and I can only wonder what things would be like if she
And I recently got to thinking about the last true face-to-face
conversation we had in late September 1988. I was married by then and had
gone by my parents house early on a Saturday to see them both. It was a
glorious sun-filled morning. The summer had been exceptionally hazy, hot,
and humid, even for Washington, DC standards, but thankfully a few nasty thunderstorms
had come in the night before and this day was cool, crisp, and clear. The
deep shadows of late September also reminded you that the days ahead would
be shorter, and yes, darker.
When I entered their townhouse, I discovered that my father was still
asleep upstairs in his bedroom. My mother was awake, confined to the
hospital bed that we had setup in their living room, that overlooked the
deck as well as the many trees in the backyard. I was surprised to find my
mother in such a good mood given her condition. She seemed to be enjoying
the morning just as I was and we chatted for a good while talking about
nothing, mostly the weather.
Looking back now, I recall how peaceful she seemed. Gone were the fears,
the anger, and the anxiety that had pretty much filled her days from the
she learned she had lung cancer three years before.
We didn’t talk about her condition as there was nothing left to discuss.
We had spent considerable time prior always plotting some new scheme to
try to beat her cancer — a new treatment, new doctor, etc. But everytime
a faint glimmer of hope appeared, the cancer would find a way to then
re-surface and thwart our efforts. Indeed, the cancer took away most of
her capabilities in a ruthlessly slow and deliberate manner. And now she
could not even walk.
Our relationship had been tested during this time too. I recall having to
lift her once and take her into the bathroom — an experience she found
utterly humiliating. She also had vomited from the special brownies I had
made for her in a feeble attempt to ease her pain.
After I visited my mother on that Saturday, she slipped into a
drug-induced haze. The drugs were there to ease her pain but it also made
her sleep most of the time and the moments that she was awake, her mind
was somewhere else.
Two days before she died, I called the house to check on her. “How is she
doing?” I asked my father. He said, “Okay. Here — she wants to talk to
I was very surprised as we hadn’t spoken since that Saturday a few weeks
before. “How are you doing?” I asked my mother, who I could hear breathing
heavily on the other end. “Hanging in there. By hook and by crook, mostly
by crook,” she said. I could tell that it had taken virtually everything
for her to talk so I told her I would be by the next day to see her. She
said, “Okay, goodbye” — the last words I’d ever hear her say.
Two days later my father called. The hospice nurse told him that my mother
was going to die that night. I rushed over to to the house, where we all
watched my mother take her last breaths in her hospital bed. It was the
hardest thing I had ever done in my life.
After she died, the rest of us were all in a state of shock. It was like
we never thought she was going to go, even though it was quite obvious it
was going to happen. It took us a few weeks to come to acceptance —
something my mother had obviously reached weeks before.
No I never told my mother I loved her. I didn’t have to. She knew. And
given the chance to play “Always On My Mind” for her on the radio, I’d
probably play “Louie, Louie” again. It is just something boys do – and
their mothers understand.
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