The harmful side of misplaced love


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Category: Women Date: 20 May 99

Some things are timeless. Like the sight of a group of talking women. They stand in their petticoats in squares in Italy, with their saris hitched up in paddy fields in India, washing clothes in rivers in Africa, across fences in Australia, outside nurseries and PTA meetings, in gyms and in front of mirrors in washrooms and lifts across the world. It is a very close conspiracy.


We know what its like to feel bloated and cranky before a period; we know what it feels like to reach for the fridge for comfort at the end of a hard day and hate ourselves for it; we know what it feels like to be obsessed with our weight. We know what it feels like to be mothers. So, we also know what it feels like to feel responsible for our children. You see it in one expert eye cast on the beach as a child splashes in water, while the other concentrates on unpacking a picnic basket; you see it in a sudden softening in a woman’s face as she looks at her son, a distracted hand stroking a child’s hair, or a worried mother outside a doctor’s office, her arms enveloping her child. Children have always been woven into the fabric of women’s lives.


Oddly, much as I try, the “timeless” father is harder to come by. Sure, there are the modern day American images of fathers fishing with their children, or taking them to a football game, but not much other than that. Perhaps because fathers are generally off doing far more important things, like fighting wars in battlefields and boardrooms, drinking with the boys or toiling so they could bring home the meat and potatoes? Whatever the case, absent fathers are more common than present ones.


Another timeless image: boy children = precious. In every culture, race and country, we hear of stories of kings and beggars getting rid of wives who could not bear the precious male child. We hear of women aborting their female foetuses. Whether they are owners of a peanut stand or a multinational corporation, both men and women want “heirs”, someone to carry the “line”. They say that’s because girl children get married and go away and the son remains theirs. That’s an old wives tale. It was formulated by some of these gossiping, ignorant, timeless women dressed in black on a dark night. It’s an old female conspiracy. Because the old wives must know that in times of trouble, more often than not, it is their girl child who will come scurrying, baby on hip, pins falling out of their hair, in the middle of the night, to comfort and love and care for her parents.


This may be a vast generalisation, but boy children/men tend to think of that kind of nurturing as women’s work, and are content just to come and taste mummy’s cooking from time to time.


Now that’s not a crime. We all have our roles as men and women and there are always the exceptions. Good sons, terrible daughters. But what happens when somebody’s son grows up to be a murderer? Why are the jails packed with somebody’s beloved son? Why is somebody’s son, rather than daughter, always on the run? Why are the nine who have been facing the noose these past few months all men? Who is responsible? “Where do these murderers come from?” a group of women ask one another over coffee. “Can you imagine if your son or mine was facing the gallows?” asks another bunch, following their toddlers with their eyes in the playground.


Cut back to the first image. Sometimes we search around the world for answers that are right in front of our face. Mothers. Everyone has one. Whether we like it or not, accept it or not, women are primarily responsible for bringing up our sons. Last week a four-year-old boy shoved past me rudely in front of his mother, and she let him. One day, when he’s older, he’ll shove past her. I’ve seen, heard of, read of mothers and sons. It starts small. Here is a crude profile (I’m guessing, this isn’t scientific) of a man who turns out to be anything from as extreme as a murderer to a wife and child abuser, to simply a selfish arrogant man who doesn’t help around the house and bullies his wife and children.


His mother could have begun with picking up this precious child (more precious than the girl because he has an organ between his legs) every time he cried, and shoving a nipple in his mouth whether or not he was hungry. As a toddler again, she must have given in to every tantrum: not gone out when he wanted, gone somewhere he wanted to go; she must have denied herself and his little sister to feed him the tastiest morsels of food, to shower him with the best toys.


As a child she must have made excuses for his rudeness, saying they were cute, and as a teenager she must have been so blinded by her love for him that she took his part even when he was wrong. Later, even when she saw the evidence that he committed a murder, she refused to believe the evidence before her. She picked up his clothes behind him, never expected him to do his share around the house, or to treat women and smaller or older people with respect. He was taught that life was about taking, about being indulged. And when he didn’t get that from other people, he got angry. He never learned to give, either love or of himself, unless it was to the end of a selfish desire. He was indulged, indulged, indulged. 

He was never a success because he never took risks, since he feared rejection, and never developed the inner resources which would have allowed him to bounce back, ready to try again.


He never learned the joy of real achievement because he didn’t know what it was to struggle. (He was never expected to give back.) He just couldn’t understand why everyone around him was not like Mummy, why everything wasn’t just handed to him just because he was a “boy”, so he walked around life slashing everybody who came in his way. He never learned the difference between right and wrong because he was never taught.


Sometimes, misplaced love is as bad as hate. And it is not the grand institutions like the law courts, or the Privy Council, or economists who determine the state of our prisons, or unhappy homes. It is the timeless image of a group of women who, in ordinary ways, on ordinary days, in the park, in homes, in schools, who can make or break the heart of a man, mother and nation.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur