On May 1, I asked my 16-year-old son if he knew what May Day was about.
He said mothers.
At first, I thought he was confusing May Day with Mother’s Day (which is today) because they are in the same month and they both start with the letter M (yes, my son can be that dumb).
He then explained that May Day is when we commemorate the labour pains that our mums went through when they gave birth to us and that’s why the holiday is also called Labour Day.
His mother must be so proud.
I couldn’t tell whether my son was being serious or sarcastic. It worries me that he almost sort of makes sense.
So the protesters at Hong Lim Park on May Day were standing up for... mums?
Talk about a motherhood statement.
Speaking of which, how come it’s not called fatherhood statement?
A “motherhood statement” is how you describe a broad non-controversial statement like “Mothers are the best!” and not, say, “Gang rape is democracy in action”.
I think it’s safe to say that mothers enjoy a somewhat more exalted place in our culture than fathers, even though we dads also have Father’s Day a month from now.
Do I sound a little jealous of mums? Perhaps.
One privilege my wife enjoys as a mother which I covet is that she can guilt-trip our two children into doing things by simply saying: “I gave you life!”
When I use the same line on the kids, I’m dismissed as a copycat trying to claim credit where it isn’t due. Does my sperm count for nothing?
Last week, a report ranked Singapore as the best place in Asia to be a mother.
But where is the best place to be a father? How come there isn’t a report on that?
Mothers also get songs about how wonderful they are, like Dear Mama by 2Pac, A Song For Mama by Boyz II Men, Mama by the Spice Girls, Hey Mama by Kanye West and Oh Mother by Christina Aguilera.
Fathers, on the other hand, get songs about how lousy parents we are like Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone by the Temptations, Cat’s In The Cradle by Harry Chapin and The Living Years by Mike + The Mechanics.
How fair is that?
Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone is about a father who “had three outside children and another wife” and “spent most of his time chasing women and drinking”. And that ain’t right.
Cat’s In The Cradle is about a father who didn’t watch his son grow up because “there were planes to catch and bills to pay”.
The Living Years is about a son who wished he had told his father that they didn’t “see eye to eye” before the dad died. Sad.
Another indication of how mums are more beloved than dads is how often mums are dissed. Let me explain:
When you want to insult someone, do you make fun of his or her father?
Of course not. You target what you assume is most sacred to that person - his or her mother.
That’s why in the Die Hard movies, Bruce Willis doesn’t say: “Yippee ki yay, father fornicator!”
That’s why we have “Yo mama” jokes and not “Yo papa” jokes.
As in “Yo mama so ugly, she took a selfie with Instagram and broke the Internet.”
Or “Yo mama so fat, when she sat on acid on the MRT train, the acid said, ‘I surrender.’”
Or “Yo mama so stupid, she believed that the New Paper photo of cyclists on Changi Coast Road was Photoshopped.”
Or “Yo mama so ugly, Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah wants to adopt her – and then lose her.”
So as paradoxical as it may sound, every time we insult someone’s mum, we’re actually acknowledging and affirming the sanctity of motherhood.
But apparently, this isn’t enough for some mothers, including my wife and my own mum.
With all these ads peddling special Mother’s Day meals and gifts for weeks leading up to today, they can’t help but succumb to the hype like Trekkers to the new Star Trek movie and want some of that action.
And if the kids and I resist participating in the crass commercialisation of the sacred mother-child bond, we can expect to hear another “I gave you life” or some version of it.
Fathers like me, on the other hand, are kind of blasé about the whole Father’s Day thing. We can take it or leave it. We don’t believe the hype.
We’re too busy chasing women and drinking.
The only reason we might care is that we have to compete with Mother’s Day. Hey, we can’t let mums get all the attention.
So thankfully, my son is wrong about Labour Day being dedicated to mums. One such day a year is plenty.
I better get a fantastic present from him for Father’s Day.
- Published in The New Paper, 12 May 2013
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