January 18, 2007

If I Were A Rich Man Part Two: Nobody Loves Me But My Mother

I'm going to take a little bit longer route than I had originally planned with this series. It all started with the post If I Were A Rich Man.

BB King. I've seen him twice. I don't go to very many concerts but on two separate occasions I had g/f's who wanted to go see him. I never thought he was a really great guitarist (although he is expressive as hell) but he is a really great performer/entertainer & probably the hardest working guy in show biz (10 years ago he was doing 330 shows per year averaged over the previous few years, with 250 miles between each gig!). If you've never seen him before don't miss him the next chance you get. In any case I couldn't find a vid for the song I'm gonna discuss but to tide you over here's King with friends (Clapton, Dr. John, Rawls, James, etc...) doing "How blue can you get".

The song I'm going to talk about is a very simple one. Just 12 measuress of verse. 3 lines (of which two are identical). That's it.

"Nobody loves me but my mother, & she could be jivin' too
Nobody loves me but my mother, & she could be jivin' too
Now you see why I act so funny baby, when you do the things that you do"

Deep isn't it? Deeper than most people think. When you start to question the sincerity of your nuclear family then you can act very strangely indeed. In the post Daughters I very briefly touched on the effects that a parent can have on a child. Daughters was a song directed more towards the father. This post will obviously be more about mothers.

BB sings of not being totally sure if his mother really cared & goes on to say that should explain his behavior towards his lady (or more specifically his reactions to her actions). It's slightly ambiguous though. It could mean that when his lady is especially warm & affectionate he acts in an extremely positive manner. More likely though he means that when his lady acts questionably (in his mind) then he responds negatively. Because of his doubts about his mother's sincerity he has an extremely hard time trusting his lady. (In real life though it seems BB had a very good relationship with his mother, albeit a sadly brief one).

As I said - deep. Especially for a simple little blues tune. When a child is learning to interact socially & emotionally with other people he/she looks at his/her parents' treatment of him/her as a guideline. If his/her parents don't treat the kid properly then it can cause a sort of emotional conditioning that will flavor how they look at every other relationship - platonic or intimate - for the rest of their lives. This is true of fathers but for some reason (& I could be wrong) I think the maternal relationship with the child carries a little more significance.

To give a few examples:

I have a very good friend in prison right now (Iíll call him ďCWĒ). His is a long & very complex story but a lot of it has to do with his reaction to his upbringing. His father died of Lymphoma when he was around 3 or 4. His mother tried to raise him & his sisters the best she could, but she's worked at least 2 jobs since I've known her (she still is). She just wasn't around that much. Add onto that some abusive relationships she was in while CW was in grade school & he didn't have a very good upbringing. Oh his mother tried to do what she thought was right & his decisions were not caused as much as influenced by her treatment, but I always thought if she could have stuck around the house a little more CW might have been better grounded socially - or at least emotionally. He definitely would have been better off if his father hadn't have died but such is life.

Now CW loves his mother (& vice versa). We grew up in a fairly rough neighborhood & most of us took "yo' mama" jokes in stride. Not CW - I've seen him take on 3 guys bigger than him (& win) because they made very casual remarks about his mother. I've seen him cry at the thought of losing her & in general he's doted on her ever since he was old enough to understand how men are supposed to behave.

He also had some trouble adjusting to growing up without a father. Every now & then we'd talk about it & he'd speak very plainly (to me at least) about how he barely remembers his father but missed him terribly & wondered if his father was proud of him.

But he has always had trouble forming trusting relationships. With friends & lovers he's been clingy as hell & a wee bit over-protective (which is part of the reason I didn't get in as many fights as I did growing up - CW was a helluva brawler). All this & some of his other behavior stems from him caring deeply for his mother but his mother not being around enough to give him the emotional stability he needed & his father being completely absent. As a teen & an adult he tried to over-compensate for his fear that the other person just wouldn't be around or care for him as he needed.

Another friend had a very peculiar circumstance (Iíll call him MT). He was raised by his maternal grandparents but his mother lived in the same neighborhood with his younger sister & his father lived in the next neighborhood over. His biological parents were around in his life but his grandparents provided a good bit of the parental stability he needed. From what MTí's told me his father & he got along well enough & liked each other but his mother & he had a very stoic relationship (if I recall she only told him once that she loved him & that was shortly before she died). I've gathered through chats with him that this gave him an outlook thatís the best & worst of both worlds; he's not very trusting of people but when he does develop some sort of trust he tends to over-compensate, especially since his grandparents passed (& to a lesser extent since his mother passed). In other words he has few friends &/or lovers in any deep sense but the ones he does let get close enough to develop some sort of bond with he usually thinks the world of & wonít give up on them easily but any perceived slight or disappointment from them affects him deeper than it should (least from what I've seen of his interactions with myself & others) which reinforces his tendency to be aloof & untrusting of most people. To most MT seems somewhat phlegmatic but with those whom he trusts he tends to be very demonstrative & this duality can be somewhat unsettling. He was very protective of his grandparents & his mother, spending a great deal of time caring for them (especially his grandparents Ė there wasnít much he could do for his mother though he tried) when they respectively became ill & he tends to treat those he cares for the same way.

Another friend (whom will be the focus of the next post in this series & Iíll call JD) had a similar upbringing to my last friend. Her father was neglectful & mildly abusive. Her mother was emotionally distant (to some degree at least). Her maternal grandmother held her together. She often has said that it was her grandmother that raised her even though all of her family lived in the same house. What this has done is to somehow make her suspicious of others' motives & caused her to be impassive in all but a few interactions. I've been very good friends with JD for almost 20 years & recently she openly questioned my motives in a matter (I'll discuss that in more depth in the next post). Yet at the same time she'd do almost anything she could for anyone she considered a friend.

These are all anecdotal & this is just my slightly biased take on my 3 friends' outlook & the cause of same but I think it's at least in the ballpark to say that their interactions with others (& in some cases themselves) were negatively affected by the treatment they received from their mothers.

In the first case CW tended to be overly needy & easily disappointed. In the second MT tended to be stoic & distant with most yet after a certain point quite tender & sensitive. In the third JD seemed to be distrustful and apathetic towards most people in her life while putting on a happy-go-lucky demeanor that fooled most of her pals (& possibly herself).

I could go on listing examples of friends & lovers who've had some sort of troubled relationship with their parents but I think those three will serve to give enough background.

Now I'm not trying to excuse anyone's actions because of their upbringing. In each case my friends all made decisions freely & either they knew the consequences or should have known the consequences of their decisions. But while it does not justify their behavior I think it does explain it.

For myself I've never accepted my motivations as an excuse or condonement of my actions. I treat others with a slightly more lax standard but still I view the actions & make judgments on those alone before I move on to motivations. What motivations behind actions do though is help me determine if the action was a one time occurrence due to circumstances or a type of behavior that may repeat itself.

If I expect you over to help me paint my house & you never show the damage is done. If you tell me that you missed our appointment because your kid was rushed to the emergency room I can rationalize that the action won't repeat itself. But if you merely forgot what the date was then I'll make a mental note to never rely on you more than a day in advance again. If you have no concrete or understandable (to me) reason for not showing up or getting in touch to let me know then I'll just assume that you flaked out for your own reasons (or that youíre insincere about our friendship or something similar) & I won't bother trusting you with anything again (if I don't disassociate myself with you completely). Course everyone makes errors & I'm not heartless but that's a general idea of how I view the importance of actions & the context of motivations. While the behavior is not justified by motivation (in most cases) it can be helpful to know what the motivation was in order to determine how to interact in the future.

That's why (or one of the reasons why) I'm delving into the parent/child relationship aspect of things. I don't think CW shouldn't be in prison because he had a lack of emotional support from his parents as a kid (in fact I was disappointed that he received such a light sentence). I do think when he gets out that if he tries to address some of those problems he might not be another recidivism statistic (albeit it would only partially help him). I also know that understanding why my friends behaved the way they did towards me & others helped me better deal with their behavior. With CW it helped me not push him away when he was being overly clingy (yes; he did this with his friends as well as his lovers) & understand why he was being over-protective. With MT it helped me to see that it was normal for him to seem distant (yet jovial) around some folks & very personable around others & that his expectations while not unreasonable carried more weight with him than they would most folks. With JD it helped me understand she didn't think I was untrustworthy personally but that she felt that way around everyone & she did have the capacity to care deeply, she just didn't show it outwardly that often. & with all of them I understood that they'd be quicker to assume I was running out on them or betraying them than most of my other friends would, hence I was more cautious about how I acted towards them.

Now this is going to feature a bit in the next post so keep it in mind: I don't think the people made any decisions as a direct result of what their parental relationships were like but it did influence those decisions they made. To give an example I don't think any one of my friends sought out a specific person to interact with (i.e. they didn't seek a dependent partner because of their fear of rejection/abandonment) but it influenced the way they treated the people they interacted with (because of their rejection/abandonment issues they gave up on a relationship more easily than someone else would have). Their outlook on things was colored by those early relationships (or lack thereof) with their mothers & fathers. They could still step back & see right from wrong but they perhaps saw an action as acceptable or justifiable when it really wasn't the ideal step to take.

Every time we interact with people on any level we look at it as a learning experience. If you go out drinking with your friends for three weeks then the week you tell them youíre short on cash they go out drinking without you it tends to provide some education into the true nature of y'alls relationship right? Well with those friends I've been discussing they started learning negative lessons at a very early age & tended to view things as either a refutation or confirmation of those early lessons. Those early lessons were along the lines of "no one really cares for you" or "if a person cares they'll leave/hurt/betray you" or "if a person acts like they care it only means they want something from you".

As you can see it's not the best way to view every interaction. I'll grant that skepticism about people has its benefits but when overdone to the extreme I think my friends have done it I can't say it's a good way to live.

But people learn & they can adapt & grow beyond what they learned as kids. In the case of a bad parental relationship it's tricky as the person has to realize that they had a bad parental relationship in the first place & then take steps to deal with it. Often they themselves do not know that their actions are being influenced by their past. It can be very difficult to self-analyze this sort of thing & most people donít ever realize itís a problem or something they should be aware of. If they are not aware of the problem & continually see those early lessons reinforced then it'd be almost impossible for them to grow beyond those early perceptions of the world.

Again I'm no shrink & quite honestly I have a dim view of psychiatry & associated fields (I see it more as a set of unproven theories than a concrete science, though I admit some of the theories make sense). I could very well be wrong in my conclusions about my friends & their relationships with their parents coloring their behavior but I think I'm correct or at least in the right ballpark. I'm never above correction though so by all means speak up if you disagree in whole or part.

Still that's a lot to be gleamed from a three line song (where two of the lines are identical). I always thought that people were most attracted to songs that they could identify with & that some of the most identifiable songs were written by musicians just as (if not more) messed up as the listener. Hell when I was in my 20's I came out of a very bad drama-filled relationship & joked that I had at least two albums worth of material as a consolation prize (turned out to be three - on reflection she was more troubled & I was more foolish than I previously thought).

So if I may ask your indulgence I'll submit that while not excusing any specific behavior a negative mother/child relationship can have a very strong influence on a person's interactions & general view of the world well into adulthood. It may not cause them to commit a specific action but it can direct how they go about said action. & those actions can be (in their mind) the correct course of action given their perception, which is heavily influenced by their childhood lessons in human interaction.

Now if I think I have all that out of my system I'll get to the heart of the matter in the next post, which will deal with a friend & her experiences with California government & courts & culture.

Posted by Publicola at January 18, 2007 08:38 AM | TrackBack