25.0-Resolution: Fear of loved ones flying away

11/30/09

PROBLEM
I’m a mama’s boy through and through. Nothing wrong with that, right?

See, I know the amazing power of a mother’s love to make a young boy feel secure and safe in the midst of any circumstances – from happiness and adoration to turmoil and tragedy.

All moms in general, and my mom specifically, are my heroes.

Native dads are getting better at long last. Finally. But we still have a long way to go to catch up to amazing Skin mothers. Consequently, oftentimes we simply are not involved enough with our children’s lives to be the “hero.” Therefore that title goes to the mother by default – and with that title, goes a special responsibility.

Therefore I – Oedipal to the core – have to be honest. As wonderful as Skin mothers have been in my experience, they also have a unique ability to stunt their baby boys’ developments if they’re not careful.

And many moms are not careful. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why. In single parent households where males are a commodity, many moms raise their boys to be lily-liver wussies to keep their precious boys out of harm’s way. It makes sense. Still, it doesn’t make it any less harmful.

For example, I remember when my older brother got killed – I think I was 6 years old. I can still picture my mom when she received the phone call that told her the bad news; I didn’t know it was bad news at first, of course. When she picked up the phone, however, within seconds I watched her face literally melt into a steady stream of tears. I wondered why she was crying so much; I didn’t really know what else to do, so I started crying too. I think that little boys just cry whenever they see their moms crying. I remember my dad kept trying to grab her and comfort her. She kept on jerking away from him though and couldn’t talk for the rest of the night. When she tried to speak, she just breathed really deeply – as if she was gasping for air – and cried harder. I didn’t know what else to do (she wouldn’t talk to any of us) so I cried myself to sleep on the couch.

I remember while I lay on the couch that night, for the life of me I truly couldn’t think of why I was crying. I tried to figure out why, but I couldn’t. I didn’t really learn why until my brother’s funeral and the pallbearers lowered the casket. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know my older brother that well – he was much older than me. I just knew that he had these beautiful long braids (like I hoped to have someday), that he loved motorcycles and the song “Shining Star” by the Manhattans.

Later on, I realized that his death – a Skin teenager that died on a reservation highway – while tragic, isn’t really surprising. My dad’s abusive and addictive behavior that caused the divorce also wasn’t really surprising. In fact, the surprising thing was that my mom dealt with it for so long.

Still, my brother’s death and my parents’ divorce shaped a huge amount of my relationship with my mom. Interestingly, my relationship with my mom is almost identical to the relationship that a lot of my close male friends have with their moms – beautiful, close and unhealthy.

Therefore with my brother dead and my dad gone, the men in the family were all absent. Hence, I instantly became the “man of the house” at the ripe old age of 6. I became – as my grandma put it – a “rooster in a hen house,” a commodity just like gas becomes a commodity during times of conflict in the Middle East.

Like oil during those shortages, there’s a scarcity of “good” men within Indian families. Therefore the women folk tend to cling extremely tight to the men they DO have in their lives, even when those “good” men are kids. I got used to being fussed about – mom raised me to be her husband. I was raised to be the man who would never leave. My mom would make sure I didn’t leave tragically like my brother – she would make sure I was never in a dangerous situation. Mom would also make sure that I wouldn’t leave angry like my dad – she’d do everything for me so that I wouldn’t have a reason to go.

My mom, understandably, did not want her commodity to leave again.

And like a woman who was used to tolerating less-than-worthy men, mom treated me as if my mistakes should be excused and my wounds should be kissed. I learned to braid my hair at a relatively young age. Still, if I needed my hair braided, she braided it. Similarly, I knew how to make my own peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches if I wanted one. But guess who made it? That’s right.

A kid learns to be quite spoiled in that household.

And as in most relationships where a person is desperate not to lose their loved one, my mom was pretty much willing to tolerate anything to make me feel comfortable and not leave her. She continuously inconvenienced herself. As mothers are wont to do, she allowed her needs to be secondary to mine and my little brother’s. She wore raggedy economy-brand shoes while we wore Nikes; she worked extra hours so she could buy me a Nintendo (with Duck Hunt) that cost more than her weekly paycheck.

Like mothers do, she sacrificed. Her comfort and continued development was an afterthought. I wish I could say that I was above taking advantage of her kindness, but that would be a lie.

As in most relationships where a person realizes that someone is desperate not to lose them, I learned that I could get away with anything. I could lie. I could manipulate. I could abuse trust. I could ask – with a straight face – for a Nintendo (with Duck Hunt) that cost more than her weekly paycheck. I could pout when she told me that she could not afford it. I could get her to eventually acquiesce.

My amazing and strong Skin mother – a fearless warrior in a cold world – was a fool for her son.

In her eyes, I could do no wrong.

Keep in mind that I was never a “bad” or “mean-hearted” kid – but I WAS infamously rotten in my heyday (my aunties and uncles and grandpa and grandma generally did not want me around). For example, one time when I was probably 8 or 9 years old, my cousins and I rustled up a cute little baby colt from the Connelly family. We led it all the way home with a rope. When we got home, we didn’t really know what to do with our stolen foal so we stuffed it (seriously) inside of a Ford LTD. The baby colt then broke his neck inside the Ford LTD. He died.

My mom found out about the poor colt and I got into a lot of trouble with her. Still, when Mr. Connelly came down, she got mad at him for getting mad at me. He hollered at me and told me that I needed to pay for the horse. My mom intervened and chased him off telling him that she would “pay for it!” Now, I definitely understand protecting your child; no one should allow their child to get picked on. However, I wasn’t being “picked on” – I deserved to be in trouble and realistically deserved a lot more than just “hollering!”

I deserved a butt-whipping; or worse. But she wouldn’t let that happen. Nothing could happen to her baby boy.

And although that sounds sweet, in retrospect I’m not sure if that’s such a good thing. Many would say that her amazing affection made me into a “punk” – that she kept me dependent upon her.

Eventually – much later – we both started to realize that her doing everything for me was not necessarily a good thing. It may sound obvious, but like most unhealthy relationships, we were the last to recognize how dysfunctional our relationship was.

Thankfully it happened at long last – we had what alcoholics refer to as a “moment of clarity.” Thank God we realized how unhealthy this relationship was and that I was taking advantage of the one person who would do anything for me. By doing that, I was perpetuating the same cycle of abuse and low expectations that existed between my mom and men – between Indian women and Indian men. I realized that her expectations of ME were dangerously low because of the behavior and failings of the men who were PREVIOUSLY in her life. Those low expectations prompted her to tell me that she would be proud of me “as long as I wasn’t in jail.” She dropped her expectations for me to an embarrassingly low level to make my mediocrity seem acceptable.

One day mom realized that mediocrity wasn’t the standard. Instead, mediocrity was, to quote a dear friend, an “abnormal norm.” And we both realized that I would have to break my mom’s heart by leaving in order to make her proud. I had to finally cut the umbilical cord. And I did.

And I realized that one day I would have to do the same thing.

RESOLUTION

I resolve to take tiny steps to help alleviate this issue within Native communities. I will help mentor young Natives within my own little community. Further, I will proactively make myself available to ensure that these young men always have a Native man to confide in or, alternatively, to be a source of stern discipline. I will do my best to give these young boys a good example of a responsible and involved community member. I will not judge single mothers, but try to assist them in the very difficult task of raising a boy to be a man without the father in the house.

Further, despite my abandonment issues, I resolve that I will not clip any of my loved ones’ wings to keep them close to me. I resolve that if I love someone, I will let them go, giving them the option to spread their wings and fly as high as they can. I think of my beautiful 2-year-old son – there’s a large part of me that would love to keep him just as he is right now: Innocent, playful, and completely loving and dependent upon me. I resolve, however, that I will do my very best to make him an independent and strong man that can move as far away from me as he chooses – should he choose to do so. I owe it to him to not let my fear of being alone stunt his development.

Have any of you ever had a fear of letting their loved ones fly away?

What do you Skins think?

Gyasi “Fancy Skin” Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation) and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name is “Oonikoomsika.” He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies. Gyasi is currently booking dates for his newest presentation, “Mother Lovers: Poetic (and Musical) Justice.” E-mail him at gyasi.ross@gmail.com.

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