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Mama’s boys: From diapers to dating

By RICARDO PAMINTUAN Published May 05, 2024 7:49 am

Ah, Mother’s Day—another brilliant creation from the world of Western commerce. In the US, it stands proudly as the third-largest shopping extravaganza, trailing only behind the festive frenzy of winter holidays and the chaos of back-to-school madness. According to the National Retail Federation, the annual spending spree for Mom surpasses a whopping $20 billion. That’s a whole lot of flowers and chocolates!

Without bursting the bubble of anyone who cherishes this special day, where we scramble to shower our moms with love, gratitude, and the occasional panicked trip to the flower markets at Dangwa Station, let’s shine the spotlight on a unique phenomenon in Filipino culture: the mama’s boy.

Unbreakable bond.

Now, what exactly is a mama’s boy, you ask? Well, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, it’s a lad who dances to the tune of his mother’s (or mummy’s, as the Brits prefer to say it) whims well into adulthood. Imagine a grown man clinging to his mama like barnacles to a ship, seeking her sage advice on how to navigate life’s choppy waters.

But before we dive too deep into the Oedipal depths of this mother-son dynamic, let’s take a brief historical detour to understand how Filipino masculinity got its makeover. From the days of pre-colonial splendor, where women held esteemed positions, to the arrival of the Spaniards armed with their Bible-toting friars, masculinity in the Philippines has taken more twists and turns than a protracted telenovela or K-drama show.

The Treaty of Paris brought an end to three and a half centuries of Jesus and ushered in a new era of Hollywood-inspired brooding masculinity. Mix in a melting pot of influences from the Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Malay, and you’ve got yourself a cultural casserole that’s more complex than your grandma’s secret recipe.

Embracing Filipino heritage.

In this simmering cauldron of cultural collision, the Filipino man has been served a hearty helping of macho expectations, often with a side of contradictory behavior that condones womanizing parallel to a healthy family life. Think tough-guy exterior with a soft, emotionally tethered center—the classic mama’s boy syndrome.

But why does “mama’s boy” carry such a negative connotation, unlike its more positively received counterpart, “daddy’s girl”? It’s all about societal pressures and perceptions. While daddy’s girls are seen as charmingly affectionate, mama’s boys often get labeled as emotionally stunted, unable to cut the apron strings tying them to their mothers.

However, opinions on mama’s boys vary among women. Some find their devotion to family endearing, while others see it as a hindrance to forming a balanced partnership. It’s like a spicy dish—some like it hot, others prefer it mild.

Savoring Filipino flavors.

Navigating the delicate dance between women and their partners’ mothers is like walking a tightrope over a volcano. Both parties aim for balance, but sometimes it feels like dodging lava bombs. Who knew cooking your partner’s favorite dish could be a relationship minefield? That pinapaitan or adobong kambing you wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole could end up on your menu if dear old husband suddenly pines for it, “like Mom used to cook.”

Certainly, no proper Filipino lady wants to feel like she’s competing for her partner’s attention against his mother, just as no mother wants to feel sidelined by her son’s romantic interests. It requires empathy, communication, and perhaps a weekend of shopping to navigate these familial waters and establish a strong female bond.

Young mothers don’t seem to mind if their husbands dote on their mothers. Being a respectful son always adds pogi points, but when a fully grown man always looks to his mom when deciding for his own family, well, let’s just say, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Managing the complexities of family dynamics.

Just like in TV dramas, especially Asian shows with similar or identical plots, there always seems to be palpable tension between a man’s mother and his girl. If cinema is a reflection of life, then there must be some truth to this age-old conflict. There may be exceptions, of course, where a mother and her daughter-in-law get along really well, but I think it’s quite rare, and rarer still if they live under the same roof. Obviously, there can’t be two queens in one castle.

Pity the man who has to pick sides in an issue where his mother and his woman have opposing views. It would require top-notch diplomatic skills to wriggle out of such a situation or to avert a war of attrition. The worst-case scenario involves a mother who always believes her baby boy can say or do no wrong, even in the face of his wife’s or partner’s unimpeachable evidence of offense or immorality. In this case, Mom becomes the greatest enabler of her subservient son.

Family love on Mother's Day.

But fear not, dear mama’s boys, for this Mother’s Day, we still raise a glass to you! Despite the occasional tangle of apron strings, you do know how to show your appreciation for Mom in ways that are as deeply ingrained in Filipino culture as adobo on a Sunday table.

And to the mothers out there, take a bow. You’ve raised your sons to be loving and respectful, and now it’s time to let them spread their wings while still keeping you close to their hearts. Cheers to you, and here’s to a Mother’s Day filled with love, laughter, and maybe just a pinch of maternal guidance.

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Happy Mother’s Day to my mom Otilia, who did a bang-up job raising us, and to my wife Joy who did the same for our own kids!