I want you to know I don’t make a habit of writing letters to strangers. In fact, I’ve never even had a pen pal, deeply worried that airport security will read my overly poetic interludes. However, on my regular traipse around the internet looking for funny-cat-videos to lighten up my Friday night, I stumbled upon a post you’ve put your name to. You published a rather popular definition to the website ‘Urban Dictionary’ and I couldn’t help but tell you my story . Under the Americanised spelling of the colloquialism ‘Momma’s Boy’, your entry reads as follows:
“One who cannot make decessions for himself and has to have his mothers approval no matter right or wrong…One who needs to hear from or see his mother on a daily basis and definately more then once…One who will die at the same point and time his mother does because he simply cannot live without her…One who would slice the throat of his wife at his mothers request…One who was born without a doctor present that did not cut the umbilical cord.
by Carlene Blair September 15, 2006”
Despite the glaringly obvious (and cringe-worthy) lack of editing you employ here, it is clear you are not alone in your opinion. With a lofty 333 up-votes, your definition appears to hold some weight in casual social rhetoric. My experience suggests the same: to be a ‘Momma’s Boy’ in school is social suicide.
I stumbled onto the Gowrie Primary School playground with a metaphorical badge-of-honour picturing my mother, brazenly telling my new peers the story of how I had received these amazing rainbow shoelaces for Christmas that year from the woman that birthed-and-raised me. This kind of reverence is about as advisable as the drunk decision to permanently ink Mom in a love heart on your arm . Crying out for her on your first day, as the early-muscle-growing school bully calls you a name you are yet to comprehend, will mar you for years. Phonetically confusing Teach-er for Mum-my in an irreversible slip-of-the-tongue may even cause the label to stick, as youimply, for the rest of your life. Luckily, I only ticked two-out-of-three of these preconditions for the DSM definition of the syndrome. A boy like me could only survive his adolescence if he kept his lips firmly shut for the length of a twelve-year-old’s memory.
Believe me, Carlene, I didn’t want to a Momma’s Boy. But you can’t really blame me for my mum-worship.
Growing up in a majority-female household, women were always revered. Two sisters came before me. Exotic, elongated goddesses whose part-Asian charms kept the boys throwing rocks at my window to ask if I could grab one or both of them. I learned to be quiet when the big decisions were being made – what to have for dinner, what time dinner would be served, what we would wear to dinner.
My father was taught this lesson early, having come from an Indonesian village known as the world’s largest matrilineal society. Ownership of the family’s property within the Minangkabau of Padang is passed down from mother to daughter, a clear departure from traditional Western values of “important” spheres where only males may dominate (business, inheritance, income management).
The Australian society I grew up in discouraged boys from openly respecting and loving their mother. This was viewed as weakness of spirit. As if deferring to a woman invoked a kind of femininity not allowed in the confines of gender. I imagine most of the boys at Gowrie Primary School were just as scared as I was. That they too cautiously waited to see their mother’s car pull around the bend to take them away from the playground jungle. They may have even wanted to see their mothers more than once in a day, Carlene. Who knows. The expression of this desire just wasn’t allowed.
Externalising feelings at all was frowned upon. A quality reserved for the girls in the class who would be antithetically deterred from displays of strong, masculine internalisation.
“Let it all out,” the P.E teacher said, leaning threateningly towards the shy girl who preferred to keep to herself. Noticeably defunct of the normal capacity for tears. In High School, she would be the Tomboy and I would play the Wimp. The Sissy. The Wuss. The Momma’s Boy.
Our social abnormalities were most glaringly obvious when the Tomboy and the Momma’s Boy began dating. An awkward couple’s movie night led to the first opportunity for us to show our respective emotional capabilities in public. The ending of Love Actually brought the slowly building pressure to its head.
The time had come for the first kiss. Earlier, the two other guys attending the show had taunted me. They told me it was ‘all you, bro’. I must make the move, I must be THE MAN.
I imagined your face, Carlene, and all the Carlenes of the world, glaring at me from the sidelines as I closed my eyes and cautiously approached her mouth. The Tomboy was having none of it, braver than I to break the tension. She grabbed my head with her rough, unmoisturised hands. She pulled my hair, tossing me back into a Latin dip. Her tongue entered my stunned mouth to a room full of gasps and dropped popcorn.
We broke up the next day. I told the Tomboy it wasn’t her, it was me. I metaphorically sliced the throat of my lover. I didn’t do it for my mother though, Carlene. I acted in fear, to avoid your indentured label.
I thought you would appreciate my bravery! After years of reeling from my initial mistakes, at the end of formal education I had escaped with my status in tact as simply “A Boy”. The qualifying ‘Momma’s’ dissipated the more I asserted masculine independence and invulnerability, an affront to the pervasive cues heard on the occasions I let slip how much Mum meant to me.
This is why, Carlene, I’m writing to you in the hopes you will reconsider your hyperbole. I should have the freedom to love my mother openly without this primal phobia that Freud’s Oedipus complex might be real. I shouldn’t have this feeling that I must suppress a normal, healthy adoration of female authority figures and that I may only give credence to one woman in my life – my mother or my wife. A child should be able to disclose an attachment to their giver-of-life without concern that their adoration is a result of a botched birth.
There are so many positives to being a Momma’s Boy. I always had someone who knew where the tomato sauce was (appropriately placed in the cupboard not the fridge). My mum was someone to confide in, but was never afraid to tell me when I was being an idiot. She explained that the Tomboy was not trying to humiliate me with her dip-and-kiss. Instead that she had acted fearlessly, chivalrously even.
My mother is a matriarch, Carlene.
As a boy growing up, I hid the chance to publicly praise her. I waited for the Hallmark Holiday to proudly proclaim the status my peers had tried to stamp on my back, avoiding the apparent permanency of the initial stereotype. I’m not suggesting my household is the right way, nor that the Minangkabau provide the perfect social framework. However, the freedom to place women as idols, as workers, as advice-givers, as people to be respected as powerful in their own right, to defer to, should be allowed without guilt. This freedom should not be confused for weakness.
Image: Ross Elliott