25.0-Resolution: Fear of loved ones flying away

By Gyasi Ross

Story Created: Nov 30, 2009

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.


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.

7:57 PM @LWS wrote …

That is an excellent point that I hadn’t thought of before. It makes sense.

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4:05 PM New single mom wrote …

Thank you for sharing. I am now a single mother of 2 boys & a girl. Their father died just 2 wks ago. I’m praying that I don’t spoil my boys too much, I want them all to grow up being responsible adults in this crazy world. I will be saving this article to read whenever I feel ‘confused’. Thank you.

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9:36 AM Seattle Fan and Single Mom wrote …

Excellent article.. powerful and moving as usual. As a single mom of a son, I thank you for the reminder to not allow a dysfunctional, codependent relationship to form. I’ve tried hard not to do that and always was mad when people told my 8 year old son that ‘he’s the man of the house now’ after I was divorced and then his dad later died. Can’t believe you only have one more entry in this series. Will miss it!

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Thursday, Dec 3 at 2:26 AM Gyasi wrote …

Thanks you all-I’m glad this touched people. Moms are always a touching topic-they’re amazing. Sometimes they just want to be TOO amazing for too long (and we readily accept). 😀 As for marriage, I guess I’m just very deliberate and slow in most things–takes me longer than most people. For example, everyone in my family had children early yet I waited till I was 30. Unheard of in my family! I may get married at some point, but for now, I don’t see “marriage” and “family” as synonymous.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 9:29 PM LWS wrote …

REading this article, I cried. We, as Native people have a long ways to go to heal from everything that happened to us. Native men have always been spoiled but in historical times they still had their fathers, uncles and grandfathers – who were role-models yet they were probably as spoiled as the young men. The men were spoiled because the families never knew when they would be killed.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 6:49 PM All the time!!! wrote …

I fear for my neices and nephews. I can’t control their environment and sometimes, I want to steal them and raise them myself. I can’t help it. I can predict with much certainty where they’re going to end up and sure enough, the oldest ones are exactly where I thought they would be. This must be what it’s like for grandparents. That’s why they spoil the grandkids. I don’t know. This makes me sad. You’re always making me sad!!! But in a good way. Thanks G.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 1:39 PM sistersalish@gmail wrote …

i’ve seen this a million times and i never put my finger on it. you put your finger all over it and nailed it. is these just indian people that do this? or is it also black women and mexican women when the husbands go to jail or in the military?

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 1:31 PM Native Father wrote …

Great Article. As a Native Father I have always resolved to be strong and fair for my children and neices and nephews. thanks for the article

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 1:11 PM TO: Gyasi wrote …

You should be commended for being there and raising your son, and it is good that you resolve to want to be there for other children, etc. But I am curious with your lines about family why are you not married?

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 12:24 PM guilty Ina wrote …

I think your mom and I have coem from the same cut of cloth..my son grew up in a house full of women and I was afraid to let him go too.I had to push him alittle and while some growing came later than it should have, he is doing well.But I feel bad whenever someone calls him a mamas boy.You’re column speaks volumes.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 10:43 AM Yabba wrote …

Excellent Job Gyassi! I wish that my ex-mother-in-law could read this article. End of story.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 9:39 AM A Skin Mother wrote …

Great Story, keep it up. I have a husband and we have a son. He is now 18 and off to college. I have let him know that he was loved and that he could do anything he chose to do as long as he put his heart into it. Yes I praised him alot and maybe he is a mamma’s boy, but I also guided him to help him understand that sometimes he will get hurt but he just has to keep on going forward. He has grown up into a fine young man and surpassed his father’s insecurities to beome his own person.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 12:41 AM a friend wrote …

good job gyasi, looks like you made em think, didnt offend too many and inspired people as usual…nothing at all to be worried about 🙂

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 12:24 AM chaplaw wrote …

I agree with C. Trimble “excellent writing”. Long overdue that we have a young professional with the insight and guts to express “skin/rez reality” like you do! I grew up in an era where we kept all of this “inside” so we could look nice and cute and “fit in” and get hired by big white skyscraper law firms. Keep it up! I want a signed copy of your book for my Chiricahua Mom whose stories of the injustice forced on her People took me on my life path.

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Wednesday, Dec 2 at 12:23 AM Reznative101 wrote …

My son had both parents, but his sister said he was a mama’s boy.He was the youngest, and the only boy.As a mother I I set my expectations,he listened,but as he got older he got involved with alcohol. One day I asked to leave home, as I didn’t like to see him intoxicated. He left angry, but stopped by a week later to see how I was.This was painful. He flew away, married had a girl & boy.I lost him at age 26,when some thugs assaulted him. I can’t let go. I know u will be an inspiration.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 10:18 PM roncla wrote …

This goes on a lot on rez. Some moms fill their boys with this stuff, telling them they are better looking, more talented, better athlete, and they get to believing it. I see some pompous, conceited, not very nice guys who were inflicted with this thing, and, it is not good. Most of these guys are not successful in life either, don’t treat their women well, and tend to gravitate toward others who think like them. They really are sad cases, and they don’t even know it. Glad others see this too.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 6:59 PM Tei wrote …

In reading this, I see my own family and how my aunt and my mother dotted on the two boys in our family, they were and in some sense still catared to. Being the eldest female in my family, I fell victim to this as well, but as I am raising my daughter on my own, I have cut the umibilical cord to my brothers. It is now my turn to rely on them to provide the “male” aspect parenthood and to teach their neice about becoming a woman. Hopefully my brothers will be great teachers, only time will tell.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 5:11 PM Maura Michelle Garcia wrote …

thank you, as a single mother it is important to hear those things from a boy who was raised by one and is now a man. it reminds me that the excessive protecting and over-tolerating is not helpful nor conducive to raising a strong, healthy man. your story reminds me of my cousin skeeter, may he rest in peace, who unfortunately did not cut the umbilical cord and did not avoid jail and ended up being a generally spoiled and manipulative man because his mother raised him that way. be well

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 3:35 PM Lois wrote …

Your story really made me think. As a single mom I want to protect my son, but have let him find his own path — unfortunately he has followed in his dad’s footsteps to the Army. I am proud of my son but so scared of where this will take him. Balance is the key.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 3:26 PM IN defense of some single mom’s wrote …

Not all single mother’s raise their children without consequences and as mama’s boys. I think perhaps a mother like this may have some issues that need to be addressed, no offense to anyone. Being a man doesn’t mean you physically abuse your family, drink, keep your money for yourself,run off when it gets tough.Not a good example for my son’s and daughters. An immature man with no direction, integrity or financial means to support a family:better to get rid of him,why make the family miserable?

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 3:19 PM Mary Jane wrote …

This scneario, although typically true in our communities, is far better than the other end. I have a young cousin who was raised by our Grandpa and uncles because his mom is doing life in a federal prison. He has grown up detesting women, using them, praying upon their sensitivity. When his brother was murdered, he did not cry, show any emotion and to this date (7 months after the murder) has not ever showed any emotion, trying to be Mr. Stoic just like the guys showed him. FINE BALANACE, huh?

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 3:17 PM MaryJane wrote …

This scneario, although typically true in our communities, is far better than the other end. I have a young cousin who was raised by our Grandpa and uncles because his mom is doing life in a federal prison. He has grown up detesting women, using them, praying upon their sensitivity. When his brother was murdered, he did not cry, show any emotion and to this date (7 months after the murder) has not every showed any emotion, trying to be Mr. Stoic just like the guys showed him. FINE BALANACE, huh?

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 2:45 PM Skaruianewah wrote …

Wow. Great article.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 2:22 PM Avis Charley wrote …

I agree with all you have said. I grew up in a household like that but where my mom catered to her only daughter. My only brother had to sometime go without so that I could have the Nikes or Guess. Nonetheless, my mom loved us both equally but she wanted her daughter close and never to leave. And my mom and I clung onto my brother BECAUSE he was the only male i the household, even though, he was not a good example or responsible man. So I hear you on how a mother’s love can do more harm than goo

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 1:39 PM Erik from Valhalla wrote …

As much as I want to, I do not own my son, Lucas. He’s 13 and soon ready to follow his big bro and ‘sis across the dangerous highway.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 12:20 PM Dyani B. wrote …

Wow. Keep up the fantastic work!!!

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 12:13 PM Mary Scriver wrote …

I’ve watched this rez pattern over and over. BUT I also see it in the white descendants of homesteaders and read about it in stories about European upper class families. Those indulged children often become great men! But some never stop being takers. Prairie Mary

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 11:19 AM Anonymous wrote …

Some tribes actually cater to their boys more so than their girls, matrilineal tribes. Traditionally/culturally Grand parents were actually caretakers of grandchildren while parents went out and worked. I don’t like white people imposing their standards on us. Each race has their own baseline of how they raise their children. My GMother, mother, aunts catered to the males in our family,a behavior we female cousins accepted. BUT that didn’t mean they could do whatever, they had responsibilities.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 11:14 AM marianne wrote …

WoW. This was definitely aiming for the heart. My biggest fear is being a mother like this b/c I see too many ndn boys around here not growing up til they are MAYBE 50. sometimes, they never grow up. It’s a sad thing to see my cousins n bros acting too scared to fly even when they have the potential to do so.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 10:57 AM kinajin wrote …

right on! I know a few Lakota men like that. And all we have is the ‘romantic’ image of a Lakota warrior. Let’s get real, Lakota men were responsible especially for their actions. Now we have superficial educated lakota males, not men.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 10:17 AM NM Native wrote …

a man raised amongst women myself, with dad in my life as well, I still did not escape the over protectiveness of mom. I was able to manipulate every situation and now having to deal with the realization mom can’t protect me all the time or come to my rescue. I am fighting hard to prevent my son in repeating this pattern with his mom. (great subject bro, keep it up!)

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 9:59 AM Chuck Trimble wrote …

Excellent writing. Keep it up.

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Tuesday, Dec 1 at 1:01 AM msuen122 wrote …

my mom put me on a plane to ny when i was 17 years old, and i am her eldest. now as a parent of two teenagers and in retrospect, i realize how hard that must have been for her and just how brave she was to send me away to school. being eldest, i was her right hand “man”. the live-in help. i cooked, washed, ironed, groomed my younger sibs & babysat for free. pushing me out of the nest was the best thing she did for me. i hope to do the same for my own children.

Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 8:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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