What Our Mothers Taught Us—Love, Insanity, and Drive

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Great men have interesting mothers. In Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger gives Holden Caulfield the line, “All mothers are slightly insane.” Salinger himself was seen as wacko by the publishers of that book. Caulfield also said mothers are caught in between the wishful version of their children and the one others recognize.

A mother is responsible for her creation—just like Frankenstein. Though eventually the monster gets away and chooses his own direction. It’s mom that gives the boy a first peek (or jolt) into love and relationships. Rob Browning, the Victorian poet not the UFC fighter, said a mother’s love DEFINES (her) womanhood: “All love begins and ends there.”

A Hard Woman Put the “Jordan” in Air Jordan.

Delores Jordan drove Michael HARD. She told Michael Corvo over at sports blog ClutchPoints she’d probably have been accused of child abuse by today’s standards. She made him read and study in the car in the parking lot of the bank where she worked, so she could look out the window and watch him. When he got cut from the high school varsity team, she was the one who pushed him to go back. And she demanded he speak to Nike when he was ready to sign with Adidas. 

Delores played by the same tough rules on her own court. Her own accomplishments include three books, starting several foundations for poor children and Kenyan women, and contributing to ESPN’s The Last Dance series that honors Michael Jordan’s career. Delores can’t take credit for every game His Airness won. But she was there to help him find his drive.

Grew Up in the Hood, Now Cap Buys Diamonds Only for His Mom.

At 47, Leo DiCaprio is still a bachelor, despite his penchant for supermodels. More often, it’s his mother, Irmelin DiCaprio, a woman he considers his best friend and calls “the walking miracle,” on his arm at premiers and glamorous Hollywood events. You can’t outshine a miracle—the pedestal is too high for lesser ladies. But he’s no “momma’s boy”. Quite the opposite—at award acceptance speeches, Cap credits Irmelin with his success and survival growing up in a rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles. 

She drove him several hours from their neighborhood to an upscale elementary school near Beverly Hills, so he could see the possibility of a different life. Now, he says she’s the only woman he’ll ever buy diamonds for. And when he needs to rip out his own heart and put across real grief and sadness on the screen, he imagines her in the throes of harm or tragedy. Irmelin isn’t the one winning Academy Awards, but she helped him demand more of himself. There’s no award for that.

The Original Man in Black Had Two Mothers—Both MO’POTUS

TWO mothers hooked up Abe Lincoln with what it took to be POTUS #16 during a soul-splitting war, which he pushed hard to win and almost didn’t, AND simultaneously to become the man of lore—still living out his legend as ”Honest Abe” on every penny tossed in the toll bin in his home state of Illinois.

#16’s birth mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was uneducated but instilled in him a love of reading and moral stamina (compassion, integrity, generosity of spirit—exactly the traits needed to govern in a time of crisis and national divide). Nancy died when he was ten, and eventually his new stepmother Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln stepped in. Lincoln said she became his “best friend.” She gave that affable kid books and encouragement. But eerily, she had a premonition about his doom and did NOT want her boy to be president. She died 9 years after having those fears confirmed, buried in the black dress Abe gave her. 

Neither of those women faced insurrection from the seat of a threatened Capitol, but they were Abe’s teachers. When he said, “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” it’s obvious he didn’t pull that out of his stovepipe hat.

Love? Sure, kid. Watch TV.

Mom’s can also mangle, even if it’s just mangling a concept. Ryan Van Meter said, in his formative years, his mother taught him about love through soap operas. She passed on explanations of why stars proposed to starlets. People marry someone they love, she told him. He was surprised when, at five years old, he got a stern rebuke from his mother for proposing to Ben (a five-year-oldboy). Van Meter says he knew then that his definition of love and his mother’s weren’t quite the same. A scolding is hardly the end of the world, and Van Meter’s mother isn’t responsible for the way the world is, but she was able to communicate the nature of the choice involved in going one’s own way. That too is a gift.

DiCaprio acknowledges it, other men keep it to themselves.. Whether a man idolizes, fights, or befriends his mom, the women arrayed behind the Men in Black, that one woman behind the man on the court, is a robust force in the man—one of the most enduring influences. Dad might hand over the y-chromosome and a lot more (different topic), but mom’s influence is definitive. And genetically, just for shits and giggles, she’s also responsible for passing on pattern balding.

Add your Mom story, below.

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Pam Gerber

The author was born at the epicenter—Brooklyn. She once drove a rebuilt 74 VW Bug cross country (and made it to D.C.). She insists on brutal honesty, isn't above engaging in a minor scuffle if it comes to that, and lives by Whitman’s, 'Being with people I like is enough.'

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