Sarah Sands: Why it takes a mother to make the male of the species blush

No matter how powerful the man, he can always be embarrassed by his mum

Share
Related Topics

The New York racketeering trial of John "Junior" Gotti, son of the late mafia boss, so far suggests a man who knows his own mind. Gotti is accused of gutting a man in a Queen's bar fight. A witness who talked to the cops was found hanging from a low tree. Eighteen jurors in this trial have made last-minute appeals to be dismissed. Charges include extortion, kidnapping, robbery and shootings.

All this is phooey to Gotti's mother, Victoria. Why is everyone ganging up on her son? Leaping to her feet behind the defence bench she screamed: "They're railroading you! They're doing to you what they did to your father!" Turning to the judge and prosecutors Mrs Gotti yelled: "Fucking gangsters! You sons of bitches! Put your own sons in there."

The 45-year-old defendant tried in vain to silence her. "OK, mother! Ma, please," he said. "I can deal with it. I'm OK. Don't worry about it. I'm fine."

Can a man continue to chill and terrify when he cannot control his own mother? Evidence demonstrates that there is no contradiction. No man is a monster to his mother and monsters often idealise their mothers. Violet Kray, daughter of a bare-knuckle fighter, and mother of notorious criminal twins, still attracts mawkish tributes. One recently posted blog read: "She was a mum in a million, always putting her boys first and herself last but they loved her beyond beleaf [sic]."

It may be a criterion for powerful men and psychopaths to have strong-willed and uncritically devoted mothers. In his biography of Stalin, Simon Sebag Montefiore questions whether the Russian tyrant would have succeeded if his mother, Keke, had not fought for his classical education. Her volatility may also have helped to unhinge him. She beat him and smothered him. She was both pious and promiscuous, as Stalin became. According to witnesses, Stalin, nicknamed Soso, was "devoted to only one person – his mother". Even so, he dreaded her overbearing interventions. "She never hesitated to voice her opinion on everything," said a childhood friend. Keke and Victoria Gotti shared an aim and a style. They would do anything for their sons and claimed exclusivity over them.

A distinction between mothers and wives is that wives do not rule out criticism of their husbands. Their affection is often tinged with irritation. Michelle Obama talked happily, even insistently, about her husband's stinky morning breath and socks on the floor. Sarah Brown balanced her husband's heroism with his messiness. A Gotti mother might wonder why Michelle and Sarah are complaining, instead of tidying up.

Another tendency of mothers is to believe that in any dispute between their sons and the rest of the world, their sons are clearly blameless. It is ingratitude, jealousy or conspiracy on the part of the world.

The late Mrs Berlusconi, "Mamma Rosa", railed that her son "works like a slave from morning to night and in return just gets insults". When she died, aged 97, there was virtually a day of national mourning and AC Milan played with black armbands.

Every boy wants uncritical admiration and mothers will go to any lengths, on any occasion, at any age, to provide it. President Sarkozy maybe in thrall to his spouse, but it does not stop him from bringing his mother along on state visits, including to meet the Queen. When President Hu Jintao complimented the première maman on Sarkozy, she listed the achievements of all her other brilliant sons, until Nicolas implored her to stop.

Muted motherhood may be less embarrassing but it will not get your son to the finishing line. Potential brides are often warned against trying to "change" their husbands, whom they should accept as they are.

What this means is that they are far too late. You need to be there at the potty-training stage and never let up. And mothers are tutoring their children in world leadership, not domestic harmony. As George Bush said of his mother, Barbara: "Every mother has her own style and mine was a little like an army drill sergeant."

Barbara Bush kept a league table of family achievements and would not allow sentimentality to get in the way of ambition. Some critics allege that Bush's stumbling over words was connected to his fear of his mother. She drummed into him, for instance, that he must never repeat words in his essays. When he was writing about the death of his sister he reached for the thesaurus for an alternative to "tears". He dutifully wrote: "The lacerates ran down my cheeks."

When George W announced his intention to run for president, his mother's only reservation was that he should have allowed his brother to go first. President Clinton was also made – and partly unmade – by his mother. I remember when Virginia Clinton first came to light, with her painted eyebrows, gold shoes and fondness for Las Vegas, I immediately commissioned the late satirist John Wells to write a fictional weekly letter from her as a newspaper column. But it was not her music-hall qualities so much as her overwhelming maternal pride which defined her. She said of a graduation speech by Bill Clinton: "I was so proud of him I nearly died. He was truly in all his glory that night." No wonder Hillary always seemed sour by comparison. Of course Bill would seek out good-time girls with no interest in healthcare reform.

Vocational mothers are particularly evident in sport. There is a poignant discrepancy in the massive physical frames and infantile natures of sportsmen. Mothers seem to delight in the lengthy incubation of character. Sportsmen off the field are motivated by simple appetites because they cannot be mentally distracted. Wives may ask for all sorts of things, from attention to long-haul breaks. Mothers will soothingly offer a chicken, a sofa and a vast plasma TV. All they want is a child for ever.

Sometimes maternal triumphalism can spill over. The mother of the American basketball player LeBron James was in a state of bliss when her son tattooed her name, Gloria, on his arm. But when she shouted at an opponent during a match, her son, momentarily, defied her. "Sit yo ass down," said James.

Being a hardcore sport spectator demands stamina and concentration. Can wives and girlfriends ever match the terrifying single-mindedness of a sporting mother? Look at Mrs Totti, who threatened to cut off her son's "whatever" if he left Roma. Her position is clear. "I could survive, who knows how long, without food, without water, without air. But I wouldn't last a minute without my son."

A mother sees no obstacles to her son's success, no limit to his abilities, no purpose in a faint-hearted wife. Her idealisation of her own relationship to her son is generally supported by society. If you scroll through literary quotations on motherhood they are almost all reverential. "Motherhood is the name for God on the lips and hearts of little children," wrote William Thackeray. "A mother's arms are made of tenderness," said Victor Hugo. "Mother's love is peace. It need not be acquired. It need not be deserved," wrote Erich Fromm.

This supposes that romantic love is inferior because it does have to be acquired and usually deserved. Marital literary quotations are much more piquant, encompassing irritation and boredom as well as passion. "It destroys one's nerves to be amiable every day to the same human being," said Benjamin Disraeli.

A mother's faith in her son may be at odds with the world's view of him. John Gotti, who allegedly threatens to saw off the heads of those who displease him, is as gentle as a Buddhist in the eyes of Mrs Gotti. No wonder she screams like a banshee in the court of law. The son of a tigress will always have self-belief but is unlikely to achieve self-knowledge. Eventually, he must pluck up the courage to tell his mother to sit her ass down.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: a duchess by any other name is just wrong

Guy Keleny
A teenage girl uses her smartphone in bed.  

Remove smartphones from the hands of under-18s and maybe they will grow up to be less dumb

Janet Street-Porter
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor