Standing Up

Women are frequently more comfortable than men when it comes to expressing emotions, and discussing our inner lives and evolving roles.

For some time I’ve been trying to find male voices – those who write beautifully, lucidly, and openly about their discoveries, their doubts, their relationships. I’ve stumbled upon a few (you know who you are), but those voices are rare.

Serendipity brought me to Wolf Pascoe, at Just Add Father, where I found a man who is husband, father, playwright, poet, and physician. He describes his blog as “a chronicle of mindful fatherhood and my attempts to get the problem right.”

Wolf’s posts are witty, poignant, and thoughtful. He recounts the tales and lessons that unfold in everyday moments he and his wife, Nora, share with their eight-year old son, Nick.

But that’s not the only reason I wanted Wolf to guest post.

Just Add Father also offers insights into what it means to be a good man in contemporary society. To explore what that means. So I asked Wolf to write something about men and women, allowing my usual readers – and me – a peek into one man’s world. His view of relationship.

I find his words illuminating. I think you will, too.

Standing up

© Wolf Pascoe

I was pleased when D. A. Wolf invited me to guest post here, because she’s a woman of courage and a writer I admire. She thought her tribe would enjoy reading about how a man thinks. I thought I’d get to the heart of the matter and write about my mother.

I was raised by my mother, who never re-married after my father died when I was eight. She lived for me, which wasn’t a good thing. It took many years for me to separate from her.

I moved out of the house when I was eighteen. That was the first time I ever stood up to her. Our conflicts had grown more and more heated and I needed breathing room. She didn’t understand this. What I didn’t understand was that we were still tethered even though we now lived under separate roofs.

I spent the next twenty years or so wandering in a sort of wilderness of women. I married some of them. Fundamentally, I was frightened by them. When I got in bed with a woman, my mother was right there with us.

I got good at manipulating women. I got especially good at manipulating my mother. I rarely wanted anything from her, except for her to stop criticizing me. Manipulating seemed the only choice.

Once, I showed the technique to my two sisters. I provoked an argument with my mother by flaunting a plan to do something she disapproved of. In the middle of the argument, I pretended suddenly to notice how lovely her earrings were.

“Oh, do you think so?” she said.

She forgot the argument. At first, my sisters thought we had staged the whole thing.

I discovered that if I was ever going to work things out with women, I needed to spend more time with men. I needed to be around men in a feeling way, where it was safe to speak the truth. This wasn’t easy for me, to speak the truth to other men. It was easier, but not always right, to tell my secrets to a woman.

Probably because I was so good at manipulating, it took me many years before I stood up to my mother for a second time. I was about 35. She had come over to my house to tell me her troubles.

“We must do something about so-an-so.” she said.

She was worried about another member of the family, and she wanted me to step in to fix things. It was impossible and would have been inappropriate anyway.

“We can’t do anything,” I said. “I can’t do anything.”

My mother wept. I held and comforted her. I had never done this before.

That night I had a dream. The psychologist Carl Jung, whom I had studied, approached me with a gift. It was a kind of small furnace, which he held out to me in his hands. The heat of it warmed my body.

About a year later I heard of a Chinese tradition that a man has a small furnace in his abdomen. In it, he burns his sufferings. The idea is not for him to get rid of pain, but turn it into fuel which makes him stronger.

Things got better with my mother. In the years before she died, I visited her regularly. She always told me what to do.

I would listen and say nothing. After a while she’d stop telling me what to do. Then she’d begin to talk to me about herself, and I’d listen some more. She told me things I never knew.

A few months after my mother died, I had another interesting dream. I got a telephone call. She was on the other end of the line. The connection was poor, and she seemed very far away.

“Where are you?” I said.

“I’m in Australia,” she said.

“But mom, you’re dead, aren’t you?”

“Never mind about that,” she said. “I just called to tell you that you were a good son.”


Image “Medicine,” Final State, 1900-1907, Gustav Klimt

 

Comments

  1. BLW – Thank you so much for introducing us to Wolf and his words. Wolf – thank you for this thoughtful piece. As a daughter and now a mother myself, I am endlessly fascinated by the mother-child relationship, how it evolves or doesn’t evolve, and the idea of healing over time. And I love the dreams you had and the clarity they brought. Thank you both. I look forward to checking out Just Add Father!

  2. All of us, I’m sure, have mother stories, though with a fundamental, biological asymmetry. Male or female, we each emerged from a female body. Exactly half of us posseses a body similar to that body, the other half, a body that is different. I look forward to hearing from readers about their different points of view. And of course, as Big Little Wolf might say, vive la différence.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Wolf, I found these words particularly interesting. Certainly, something I’m paying attention to as a solo mother to sons. Would you elaborate on the following, in any way you would like?

      I spent the next twenty years or so wandering in a wilderness of women. I married some of them… and I discovered that if I was ever going to work things out with women, I needed to spend more time with men.

  3. Oh, yes. I feel very connected to this story. A few years ago I realized how toxic and manipulative my relationship with my mother had become (both ways, but more her manipulating me) and began a journey of regaining my own voice and decision making process.

    It’s so hard to separate what it means to love our parents and do right by them, and what it means to always be our parents’ tool for worth and value. I appreciate your perspective on it.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      @Kelly – I wonder if those of us who meet this head-on in adulthood, and before we become parents, succeed in doing better by our own kids. Allowing them sufficient space to breathe, while still doing our job of guiding. I guess we don’t know – can’t know – until they are out on their own. Do you find yourself more conscious of what you don’t want to do with your own children?

  4. I like your story, one most of us can relate to on one level or another.

    The most important thing I’ve ever done was sit down with my mom and ask her what she dreamed of, how being a wife and a mother changed her, whether she was happy in her marriage, etc. To know her not just as my mom, but as a woman, wife and mother, how she saw herself. I encourage everyone to do that; you’ll be amazed at what you’ll discover.

    When we realize our parents were once little kids who wanted the same thing from their parents that we wanted from our parents — to be loved, to be nurtured, to be accepted — and perhaps didn’t get it, we see them through different eyes. More compassionate eyes.

  5. BLW – Thanks so much for making this introduction. You are right that men who write in this way are rare. We women can so easily get caught up in our own, feminine perspective that it’s easy to forget that a man’s point of view can be fresh and engaging. As the mother of a son I know the pull to live my life just for him. But stories like this make me recognize that true closeness actually requires a bit of distance. A lovely post. I will be checking out Just Add Father soon!

  6. BLW — To answer your question about wandering the wilderness of women and the need to be with men, I’d say this: I was operating (unconsciously) on the theory that if you can’t solve the problem, marry it. So I continued working on mother issues with wives, which did justice to neither. As to spending time with men, I found it was not only my mother troubles, but also my father troubles, which prevented me from being fully available in relationship to women. In groups of men I could address what it meant in my life to have grown up without a father. The difficulty proved more than psychological, but also involved spirit and soul.

  7. Hot Damn! This is good stuff! I, too, was struck by the phrase: “wandering in the wilderness of women.” I bet it does feel like that sometimes.

    I’m leaving today with the idea of the Chinese philosophy of the furnace in the body–what a great thing to carry around with you when the world gets hard.

    And the ending to this piece…wow. Would we all have that same dream to calm our fears re: our parents/whether we were good enough. Brilliant.

  8. We all have to learn to fight our dragons – and it is not easy for any of us I think. It is wonderful to hear how you worked through the challenges with your mom. I read Iron John by Bligh last year – the journey for men is different than it is for women – and it largely seems to focus upon the mother figure… and yet, the changes in society are challenging men in their own ways and are beginning to pose challenges to the maturing of girls to women too. Interesting post… Thank you for coming here and sharing.

  9. Nice to read you Wolf. I, too, have been visited by deceased people. For me, some were comforting, some not so much. When my mother passed away, I had already experienced my first visit from a deceased friend which was extremely pleasant. I expected a visit from my mother and I expected it to happen quickly and be equally as pleasant. When my mother eventually came to me in my dream, she was very sad – sad to be away from us, sad to be gone. Now that years have passed, I am able to take comfort simply in the fact that she visited. It’s nice to know that others have these visits too. I’m glad yours was so comforting.

  10. Kitchen Witch — Thanks for kind words. It took a lot of work to make peace with my mother, but was infinitely worth it. When she passed away I cried like a baby for ten days, and then it was done, complete, finis. The dream was icing on the cake.

    Exception — I love the way you spell Bly — he is a pirate. Not sure if you mean men or women focus largely on the mother figure. I really do feel complete with my mother. But the vacuum in the wake of my father’s leaving doesn’t seem to go away.

    Cathy — I’m glad to hear about your dreams. My father has also visited me in a dream. Not so stunningly as my mother, but it was a great comfort.

  11. BigLittleWolf says:

    Wolf – I’m also wondering to what extent you are bringing your experience with your mother into the way you deal with your eight-year old. I realize he hasn’t hit those tricky separation / independence issues that begin with pre-teens and then take off with adolescence.

    But how does your experience with your solo mother impact the way you and Nora are raising your son?

  12. Hi Wolves, Thanks for the intro, BL and thanks for the post WP. It does seem essential, as men, that we come to terms and individuate regarding our mothers (for better or worse). I appreciate the Jung dream and it strikes me as an alchemical gift, a furnace in which we melt down the elements to separate the dross from the spirit gold—and also symbolic of receiving masculine light and warmth… almost a masculine oven or uterine symbol in which you could gestate your true Self.

    As for dreams of the dead, one stays with me: my best friend was killed when we were both boys, and when I was about twenty I had a dream where I was given a chance to meet my old friend. He was lead into our middle school gym, still a boy who did not recognize me now that I was older. It would have been too shocking for him, or so it seemed, to tell him who I was and so I watched him be led away, a sweet but unaware boy, and although I had tears in my eyes, I never dreamed of him again (after many dreams prior to this one).

    As for Australia, perhaps your psyche was intuiting that she was altogether upside down now that she had crossed out of our world—in a place where our autumn is her spring—Persephone emerging in one place just as she disappears in another.

    Either way, thanks for sharing your words, thoughts and feelings, Namaste

  13. BLW–My son Nick’s school has an overnight every year right in the yard. One year my wife didn’t come. Nick and I were together in the tent and he tossed and turned, and finally said, “I miss mommy.” I said, “Me too.” He seemed genuinely relieved. We snuggled and he fell asleep. I have no idea if this answers your question.

    Privilege of Parenting–I’m very moved by the story of your best friend. I’m in a men’s group, and we often share stories of loss–loss of relationships, loss of male friends. We’ve been struck by an awareness that the loss of a relationship, even a marriage, can ultimately be gotten over. But the loss of a best male friend–either through death or a falling out–is something that seems never to stop hurting.

  14. So many important layers to this story! I am grateful that you were so honest. I’m raising two boys, and often they seem very foreign to me. I could see myself easily being this kind of mother because of my tendency to grab on to things. This is very enlightening, I definitely appreciate the perspective that leaves me wanting to discuss it with my husband.

  15. Thanks for the intro, BLW. An insightful post. It takes a heightened awareness to truly accept your parents – their love, their criticisms, their flaws and their intentions. Sometimes it is definitely hard to reconcile, but I get this, this concept of learning to listen. Listening doesn’t necessarily mean that we disrespect our own personal philosophy.

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