Monday, June 9, 2008

Throwing Momma Under The Train

I have never understood the debates between second and third wave feminists about motherhood. Maybe it is because, in spite of my own upbringing by a '60s feminist mom, deep down I still think that such distinctions are primarily a product of how people are socialized to perceive motherhood and parenting. Sometimes, however, I am forced to confront that terrible reality of other peoples' lives--the kind of people who cannot accept imperfection and use the values of their loved ones against them for personal gain. For those who have not read Rebecca Walker's denunciation of her mother, the famous Alice Walker (she of The Color Purple and Bill Clinton-is-first-black-President fame), it is truly a betrayal of the most personal kind.

Reading Rebecca's account of her childhood is hurtful--not to the extent that I doubt her truthfulness, although I have never met either woman, but because there is nothing to me that is worse than denouncing a parent in a very public way. Maybe this sounds primordial, but I could never do something like this to one of my family members, even if I thought they deserved it. That is not to say mom and dad were perfect, but as a mother Rebecca may one day regret what she has done in writing about her mom in hateful tones that rival Philip Roth's misogynistic portrayal of Jewish mothers in Portnoy's Complaint. Not surprisingly, after bashing her mother in two books (for a profit, of course), and numerous conversations and public speeches and articles, she is no longer on speaking terms with her mother anymore (to which the daughter responds by criticizing her mom for disowning her, making sure to cement the gulf that exists between them).

At worst, mom Walker might have been somewhat inattentive and possibly not as warm as some children would have liked. Well, my father never once told me that he loved me, even though I knew he did. Still, it would have been nice to hear it. My mom never paid attention to movie ratings and took me to see R-rated films as a young child, giving me terrible nightmares after watching The Shining, at nine years old. No one is perfect, Rebecca, but you never get the chance to make up for it when you sever your ties like this, not the least to the person who put you on this earth. I just hope, and I truly hope, her own son does not imitate his mother's behavior and treats her in a corresponding fashion at a later date. There is no crueler justice than the injustice of perpetuating the past actions of others on to someone else, particularly when that someone else is a loved one.

I sense at some level that this has less to do with motherhood and politics and more to do with Rebecca's bitterness and frustration at her mother for not being the kind of parent she desired, especially since her mom did not initially seem overly excited about her pregnancy. At some level, this is understandable. We have all experienced run-ins and issues with our parents, and there are many whose stories are veritable horrors about the level of abuse (physical and otherwise) that parents and guardians subject their children to. But, Rebecca, when your child is a teenager and young adult, and reeling over every little missed opportunity, hug, and attaboy, nothing will be gained by him taking that relationship and purposely, and in a very public way, dynamiting it to make himself feel "closure" about not having a great childhood (under the guise of de-programming himself from your ideological stultification).

Mark my words. When your mom is gone, and one day she will be, you will regret the day you did this. There is no closure to an imperfect childhood and there is even less closure through bitterness and anger. You have only one mother. She could not have been that horrible. You were never beaten, scarred, and you are a successful person in life in no small part because of her. Your stepmom did not get you into your college of choice. Neither did you take her name. Instead, you chose out of your volition to change your last name to your biological mother's, the same person you now assert inflicted so many calumnies upon you, and a name to which you continue to hold, even though you are well aware that what little fame you have is a product of that parentage. Likewise, your stepmom did not put you to sleep every evening as a baby. She did not burp you, change your diapers, and raise you, in spite of any misgivings she may have had about being a mother. None of this is a commentary on your stepmother, who I assume is a good person, but it is a musing about how you could so utterly hate that which you changed and molded yourself after, only separating when your own public complaints landed you in the kind purgatory you felt you were always in.

And since your new endeavors, enjoying the wholesome values of motherhood and old fashioned family structure, have guided you in this current path consider the fourth commandment, ever popular with your new ideological bedfellows. You would do well to try to honor it, while you still can.

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