Mothers and Sons: The Message: Education Is the Key
By Deborah Salomon
It’s a boy!
Now what? the new mother asks. Little boys are more than snips and snails and puppy dog tails.
Sons are men-in-the-making. A mother has the opportunity to shape the life of this creature so different from herself.
Reams have been written about mother-daughter relationships. Father-son, too. But the mother raising a boy — especially a single mom or a woman who did not grow up with brothers — faces challenges.
“A female cannot teach a son how to be a man, but she can teach him how to be a good person,” says clinical psychologist Yvonne Smith, who practices in Seven Lakes and Fayetteville. Then, Smith drops a bombshell: “Show me how a man treats his wife, and I’ll tell you how he loves his mother.”
Emily Sloan, a public relations specialist, is expecting her first baby, a boy, in July. She has a husband and nephews but no brothers.
“I’m often asked if I’m having a boy or girl. When I say I’m having a boy, the response from other mothers with sons is often the same — that there’s a special relationship between a mom and her son.”
Out of the mouths of successful men comes the proof.
David Kilarski, FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital CEO, grew up in Brookfield, Ill. His father was a pipefitter; his mother, Elinor, raised Kilarski and three daughters.
“My sisters used to say that Christmas came on Dec. 10, my birthday,” Kilarski says. His mother’s frugality helped put all four children through college.
In Kilarski’s own words:
My mom had a great influence on my life. She set an example of hard work and optimism, which she demonstrated daily and which made a big impact on me. She always encouraged me to get a college education and to enter the health care field.
Mom was a stay-at-home mom who raised four children. I was the only boy, and according to my sisters, spoiled rotten. Mom worked very hard to make ends meet since my dad had a factory job and worked long hours. She basically raised the four of us by herself.
When I was a young child, school wasn’t really much of an interest to me; that was reflected in my grades. Mom knew what my father had endured and was determined that her only son was going to have a better life. Since that meant I needed good grades and a college education, she spent countless hours helping me with homework, preparing me for quizzes or helping me read my history lessons. My grades vastly improved when I was in high school and college, and that can be directly attributed to my mother’s constant attention to helping me with school when I was younger.
Mom was always about hospitality; she would always have a ham in the fridge in case someone stopped by. She did the same with her baking. No one ever left the house hungry.
My mom is extremely proud of my accomplishments, but she doesn’t realize that I could not have done it without her. I want her to know how much I appreciate her sacrifices and how proud I am to have her as my mother. Thanks, Mom, for everything. I sure am proud of you!
Joshua Haire, pastor of the First Missionary Baptist Church in Southern Pines, felt the pressure of being a schoolteacher’s son:
I am the eldest of my mother’s four children, two boys and two girls. The eldest is always special, right, and spoiled rotten. Mothers hold you in their arms all of the time, show you to all her friends and family as the most adorable precious child in the world. You can do no wrong.
Well, special to her, maybe. But, you can do no wrong — not quite, particularly if you are the child of an educator.
My wonderful mom is Illa Haire. She has been an elementary education teacher in the Cumberland County school system for nearly 60 years, almost all of my life. To Mom, education is the key to success, and learning is the first law of life.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that being the child of an educator means you’re also her student. Oh my. No educator is going to have a “dumb” child. It ain’t gonna happen. Therefore, my siblings and I went to school twice daily. Go figure.
A weekday for me consisted of coming home from school, completing my homework, two copies, one which she graded, the other to be turned in the next day, and reading a portion of a book that had to be completed by week’s end and telling her about it.
I hated it! It was cruel and unjust punishment for a kid to have to go to school all day and night too!! And did I mention discipline? Well, that’s another story.
I didn’t know then, and neither did Mom, that the educational drilling she put us through was preparing me for the profession I have today. I’m a pastor. She didn’t see that coming. And my first and most important responsibility is teaching the word of God to my congregants with simplicity and clarity, which is the first law of learning.
To do that requires hours and hours of study that, because of my mother, has become a habit to me. And did I mention discipline?
Thanks, Mom, for you helped make me who I am today. I love ya!
Dr. John Dempsey,
president of Sandhills Community College since 1989, grew up in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., with two “mothers.” Now, he counts his mother-in-law as No. 3:
I am a very lucky person — ridiculously lucky, in fact. I win drawings, make holes-in-one, and have all sorts of fortunate things happen to me. In no area of my life, though, have I been as lucky as I was in being the son of my mother, Rose Dempsey.
In fact, I am so lucky that I have actually had three mothers — three incredible women who have each played a role in raising and nurturing me — my mother, my Aunt Mary, and my mother-in-law Ruth.
My mother, Rose Dempsey, raised me and gave me the gift of laughter. My enduring memories of my mother are of us laughing together — usually at ourselves and our foibles.
My mother was the kindest person I’ve ever known, and she taught me how important it is to like people and to be nice to them. She never let a day pass without telling (and showing) my brother and me how much she loved us and how proud she was of us.
My mother’s sister, Mary, never married. She came to live with us after my father died in 1965. Mary gave me my love of education. She was a college graduate — rare for a woman in the 1930s — and in the 1950s she earned a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University. This was at a time when “distance education” meant a two-hour bus ride to New York City twice a week for three years — an example of persistence that I have tried to emulate in my own life. My Aunt Mary was special.
My mother died in 1996 and my aunt in 2001, but in recent years I’ve been able to enjoy the company of my “third mother,” my mother-in-law, Ruth Condon. Ruth lives at Penick Village in Southern Pines, and her presence has been an enormous blessing to my wife, Evelyn, and me. Ruth keeps us laughing, she likes the same English mystery books that we do, and she adores the Tar Heels (like her daughter!). Though she just celebrated her 90th birthday, she has as much zest for life as Evelyn and I do put together.
Those three women — as well as the incredible mother of my own children (to whom I’ve been married for 44 years) have literally been my world for all of my days. I couldn’t be luckier.”
Baxter Clement — musician, actor, teacher, bon vivant — rates star status on the Sandhills entertainment scene. He credits, who else? — his mom:
Ruffles — that’s what everyone, myself included, calls my mother.
She was a special mother, but not in the standard cookie-cutter-with-rainbows way. (I don’t think anyone’s mother really fits that bill.)
Ruffles did shape my life, for better or worse, into the strange thing I have become. It was back in kindergarten, in Chicago, that the school plucked me out of standard classes and told Ruffles that I was “gifted” in the arts and should be placed in special classes to promote these talents.
Well, Ruffles didn’t bat an eye, so off I went with two young ladies. That’s where the demise of my future jock self began. Later, in high school, after years of intensive music studies and neglect of that receding jock version of me, my mother learned of a boarding school in Winston-Salem where they could develop my talents. Even knowing their last homecoming queen was a strapping young lad named Eric, dear Ruffles sent me packing.
When I finished my studies and told my family I was moving to New York to pursue music professionally, Ruffles — my dear, sweet, cheerleading, beauty-queen Southern belle of a mother — not only got the movers but came up and found an apartment.
My proud, beautiful and traditional mother somehow allowed herself to let her strange little boy grow with love and confidence to become the strange man he was meant to be.
Without Ruffles, I do not believe there would be today’s Baxter. Maybe I would have dreamt of the life I lead but it would still be a dream.
Thanks, Mom, and yes … I have eaten today.
Surgeon Dr. Willy Chu, the only child of immigrant parents, smiles knowingly at the Tiger Mom image. “It wasn’t if I was going to college — it was where.” His choice: Duke University undergraduate and medical school.
Stereotypes would not exist without a bit of truth. Did my Chinese mother, Jung Chen Chu, seeing an A-minus on my report card, actually say, ‘What happened?’ I cannot truly say, but as an only son of Chinese parents, I knew that education was paramount.
Obtaining a college degree was a given but a postgraduate degree would also be the norm. Hence, I became a physician. I might have traveled the same road without my parents’ expectations, but armed with their support, I was able to succeed.
My mother is a remarkable woman. Her energetic, unflappable nature has been an inspiration during trying times, but my travails cannot compare to her life. She was born in pre-revolutionary China, in the 1920s, one of nine children. They grew up in a large walled house with a central courtyard and walled garden.
Her tranquil life ended in 1949 when Mao Tse-Sung swept across China. My mom escaped on one of the last steamers out of Shanghai amid shelling of the harbor. Her ship disembarked in Taiwan.
My mother always dreamed of coming to America. Her sister lived in Florida. Arrangements were made — arrangements that included a stop in Zurich, where she met my father, who left China in 1939 to complete a graduate degree in engineering. They married and settled in Switzerland, where I was born.
My mother’s dream was fulfilled when we immigrated to America just after President Kennedy was inaugurated. After living here for 50 years, my mother longed to return home. But because of changes in modern China, my parents decided against this.
Instead, at age 87, my mom and dad moved from Pinehurst to Southern California because life in Pinehurst was a bit too slow.
The minor disruptions in my life pale against the seismic shifts in hers. Her ability to adapt and her sense of adventure has always been an inspiration to me. This pushed me to do something more with my life.
Attorney Bruce Cunningham Jr. lives only a mile from his mother, Marjorie, who recently rang the bells to start the Tour de Moore:
Optimism. Inquisitiveness. Tolerance.
When The Pilot asked me to write about what I have learned from my mother, these words immediately came to mind.
Marjorie Cunningham celebrated her 90th birthday two weeks ago. A few months earlier, she had bought a new car to take her to Pinecrest track meets, book club meetings and bridge games.
Every day for Mom is a good day, and I’ve heard her say that each stage of her life was the best, until the next one came along. I grew up believing that if a problem or obstacle came along, a solution was not far behind.
Mom is always learning and exploring. Last summer, she and my sister Miriam went to Washington, D.C., for an Elderhostel workshop on spies and espionage. The summer before, they went to Pittsburgh for a session on black holes and astronomy.
My father was a chemist, and Mom was the first female sales rep in the country for Encyclopedia Britannica Films. Learning was a daily part of life around the house. Sometimes, the learning was more exciting than others, such as the day a solid fuel rocket I was building in my bedroom exploded, sending flames leaping up the wall. Amazingly, my parents didn't get mad.
A valuable lesson I have learned from Mom, or “Grammie,” as she is now known, is that everyone has their own stories and struggles. You never know what challenges another person may be facing, so you shouldn't be too quick to judge.
Lessons like these were not forced on (my sister) Miriam or me; it was just the way things were.
Oh, yes. Another thing I learned from my mother was how to play a mean game of pingpong. She had been the director of the Youngstown, Ohio, summer recreation program, and she was a table tennis champ. A year ago, her arthritis slowed her down a little, but now, with her new knee snugly in place, I’m looking forward to many more years of after-dinner pingpong games!
Thierry Debailleul, executive chef at the Carolina Hotel, grew up in France, which bodes well for his profession. Although his mother, Annie, was a chemist for IBM, not a professional cook, food, Debailleul says, was part of their culture. For chef Thierry, however, Mother’s Day is tinged with sadness. Annie Debailleul died two years ago on Mother’s Day weekend:
Early on my mother always pushed me to do better. She often said to me and my two brothers, ‘Don’t push back to tomorrow what you can do today.’ That never really hit me until culinary school, when instructors build up a sense of urgency to prepare you for the workplace.
My mom encouraged me to be independent, serious and make the right decisions in life. While she was raised on a family farm in a rural part of Brittany, she attended Catholic school until she made her way to chemistry college far away from home. She started her life and career near Paris, working for only one employer for the rest of her life. My mom’s job and her loyalty to the U.S.-based computer company gave us a sense of work ethic, how one should be happy and engaged with one’s profession — or try something else.
My inspiration for cooking as a profession came my senior year in high school. Cooking was a way to occupy my weekends, to experiment with recipes seen on TV every Sunday. While good cooking was an important part of my childhood and at family reunions, no one in my family considered it as a profession. Cooking for a living in the 1980s was far less glamorous than it is today, with celebrity chefs in the media.
My mother taught me easy recipes in her kitchen and encouraged me to be serious about culinary school when I began to enjoy the craft. We spent months during my senior year searching for the right college, a place to live, reviewing tuitions, dismissing those pricey Swiss hotel schools to finally settle on a new program in Paris with the chamber of commerce. The rest is history.
Cooking took me halfway around the world with great passion, with learning opportunities at every stop.
Moms get the last word on their day. Dr. Sharon Harrell grew up with two sisters, no brothers. She has a 14-year-old son:
“I am shaping Brandon’s life by allowing him to make decisions that may not be the best, but which help him learn from his mistakes. This allows him to grow and mature so that he will have better judgment. I feel it is better for him to make mistakes now when he is young rather than later when the stakes are higher — even though it’s hard for me to watch him suffer the consequences.”
Expectant mother Emily Sloan seems anxious but ready: “Although I look forward to motherhood, I’m filled with worry about being a good mom. However, my worry subsides when I hear the responses from other moms.”
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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