Jed Diamond became a mama’s boy when his father left. Here are a few of the many lessons he’s learned since that day.
No red-blooded American male aspires to become a Mama’s boy… but maybe they should. Before I was five I was just a boy. But then my father left and it was just me and my mom. Before he left, both he and my mother had become increasingly depressed. I learned in later years that her depression came from losing the love of her life, a New York Times journalist who had died covering a sectarian war in Africa. Although she married my father, she never got over her first love.
My father was bipolar and his suffering came from trying to be successful in his chosen profession as a writer. His increasing despair was evident in the journal entry he wrote at the time:
“Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers, with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work. Yes, it’s enough to make anyone blanch, turn pale and sicken.”
When my father left I became my Mama’s big little boy, which wasn’t always easy since I was a very small, very scared, and very confused five year old. But there were upsides to growing up fast and feeling responsible for my family. I learned to be strong-willed and self-directed.
Early on my mother shared these words from a writer I’d never heard of before:
“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I still remember going shopping for my first pair of “big boy shoes.” I was tired of the clunky white ones and was looking forward to something cool. I saw them immediately when we entered the shoe store, a pair of bright red Keds. The salesman brought out a pair for me to try on and I got to see my toe bones in the green x-ray machine that was popular at the time (I shudder to think how much unnecessary radiation we got with our Keds).
The shoes fit fine, but they were the wrong color. They weren’t red, they were blue. The salesman told my mother, “He’ll look better in blue. Blue is the boys color. Red and pink are for girls.” I insisted on red and got what I wanted. It never occurred to me that certain colors were for boys and other ones were for girls. My thinking went along these lines. “Since I’m a boy, any color I like is a boy’s color.” Red was my favorite color and I wanted to wear red.
A Google search for “Red Keds” shows things haven’t changed much since I was a kid. Page after page of red Keds accompanied by pictures of cute children and sexy adults…all female.
The same thinking guided me when I gave up my trike for my first bicycle. When we went to the store, I insisted on the bike without a bar across the front. When I was told those were “girl’s bikes,” I wasn’t convinced. By age 8, I knew the dangers of getting one’s testicles crunched. It was clear as day to me that riding a bike with a bar across the front was dangerous. One bounce off the seat and your balls get bashed.
Obviously the best boys bike was the one with the scooped out front:
I rode my bike all over town selling greeting cards when I was eight and later doing a paper route when I was nine. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur ever since. I’ve always wanted to help people and was told that becoming a doctor was the manly thing to do. I chose to become a social worker. I now charge $250/hour for counseling. When a shocked client stuttered out,
“but that’s more than my Psychiatrist charges,” I asked, “has he helped you solve your problems?” She admitted that he hadn’t, which was why she was coming to see me.
Being a Mama’s boy, I became an early advocate for the Women’s movement, since it was clear that any movement that empowered people to be themselves would liberate men as well as women. As a young adult, my favorite bookstores were “Feminist bookstores.” I was sure that Betty Friedan, Simon de Beauvoir, Virginia Woolf, Eve Ensler, Kate Millet, Erica Jong, Germaine Greer, and Naomi Wolf, were writing just for me. Ensler’s, The Vagina Monologues, inspired me to write an essay called Cock Tales.
Perhaps, “Mama Boy Masculinity” may be a more powerful guide to our future than “Papa Man Patriarchy.” In her 1993 book Uniting Sex, Self, and Spirit, Genia Haddon describes a masculine Yin and feminine Yang that our culture typically represses, ignores, or fails to cultivate. I heard about Haddon’s book from my colleague Charles Eisenstein who says, “All beings desire to fulfill themselves and to move toward wholeness. When the masculine Yin is underdeveloped, men in their search for wholeness might seek it outside themselves, in a female partner.”
In his book Ascent of Humanity, Eisenstein says we are entering the “Testicular Age” as the masculine Yin becomes better understood. “The masculine Yang we are all familiar with,” says Eisenstein. “It is the phallic dimension, and its qualities are what define masculinity in our culture: active, taking the initiative, goal-oriented, linear, exploring, forging into new territory, impatient, aggressive, rising above, taking charge, dominating, setting the pace, strong, firm, erect, getting to the heart of the issue, adventuring, courageous. While not exclusive to men, these are certainly male qualities with resonance in conspicuous male anatomy and physiology. However, they are not the qualities of the complete man, because they do not reflect the other defining feature of male anatomy: the testicles.
“The testicles, lying quiet underneath the penis, represent the masculine Yin. The testicles are the generative reservoirs of the seed, the life-essence. Unlike the penis, which is given to occasional action, the testicles’ function of producing, storing and conserving harks to male Yin qualities like patience, steadfastness, supportiveness, solidity, stability, reliability, and resourcefulness.”
Mama would be proud.
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