It’s Mother’s Day, 5/8/2022. To say the subject of motherhood is fraught in my life would be a gigantic understatement. For a large part of my childhood, I hated her, feared her, and wanted to run away from home. My mother was a persistent screamer and critic.
In Junior High, in Silver Spring, Maryland, at the world’s worst school, Montgomery Hills, we would be given report cards every six weeks. My mother looked at mine and immediately grilled me about what other kids in my class got. “How did Jerry Akman do?” “How did Jeff Burt do?” “How did Stanley Sitnick do?” “How did Carol Brimberg do?” Then there would be the torture about how come those other students did better than I did in Math or Science. I would be reminded about the fact that I had a far more comfortable home than they did, that my parents were far better educated than their parents, that I would be condemned to a life of poverty and humiliation if I did not get better grades.
In 8th grade I took a statewide aptitude test in math administered to every student in Maryland. I got the second highest score in all of the state. Not a word of congratulations or praise. At some points I took other standardized tests and did spectacularly well in them. Not a word of praise.
My mother criticized me on a scale of viciousness that psychiatrists I have been seeing since 1966 sat open mouthed with shock. These mockeries were so cruel and so bitterly aimed also at my father, probably the best father I have ever known of — a genuine saint — that even now in 2022, I shiver when I think of them.
At some point in about 1959, a semi-seismic shift took place in my mother’s brain. She simply stopped criticizing me about my grades. She did some fantastically kind things. She wrote me a letter every single day I was in college. She did not stop her war against my father, again, the kindest man on the planet. But she did not resume her blitzkrieg against me. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because I started at the best high school ever, Montgomery Blair, and got all A’s all the time.
My mother, who had been maniacally frugal for most of my junior high years, became much more generous to me by the time I was in Blair. In fact, I cannot recall any classmate or friend whose parents were more generous to me than mine from about 1959 to their deaths. My mother was especially kind about buying me expensive clothes. When she did, she would only say, “Wear them in good health.” She also wanted me to have pleasant vacations and sent my fiancée, Alex, and me to a genuinely lavish vacation in Nassau back when Nassau was a pleasant spot and not a savage jungle. “It’s good to have a winter vacation,” she said as she sent my wife and me off.
My only bad act at Blair on the academic scale was when I sarcastically asked my Junior Year English teacher, Mrs. Feldesman, why she was always criticizing the U.S. about race relations. “These sound like the comments of a Communist,” I said.
By an amazing coincidence, it turned out that Mrs. Feldesman was a card-carrying Communist and had lost her job at another school district because of it. Mrs. Feldesman blackballed me from the Junior Honor Society. That did not bother my mother at all. She was a fanatical anti-Communist. She raised major hell about Mrs. Feldesman and congratulated me.
She was disappointed that I did not get into Harvard when college admission time rolled around (probably because of Mrs. Feldesman’s comments about me). I did get into Yale, Brown, Williams, Oberlin, Stanford, and Columbia. I eventually chose to go to Columbia because it was and is in New York. My imagination was that I would date beautiful show girls. My choice to go to Columbia turned out well. I had superbly good teachers, joined a magnificent fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi, and best of all, dated seriously a great girl named Mary. She was, except for my wife, the best female I have ever known, a genuinely fine person.
Time passed. I did well at Columbia and got into the hardest law school to get into on this earth, Yale. For very good reasons, I married a girl who replaced Mary. That girl was and is my wifey since 1966. Alexandra Denman. We have been together since 1966. She is a literal saint, an actual deity. She is beautiful, patient, forgiving, loving. She was also a super successful studio executive here in Hollywood, largely thanks to a wonderful friend named Don Simpson. We have been together since Lyndon Johnson was President. I cannot ever recall her yelling at me. Her only sin was that she did not appreciate Nixon enough in 1973. But she has since changed and loves Nixon as much as I do — and that’s a LOT.
Some say that men marry their mothers. Maybe some do. I didn’t. My wife is the most patient, forbearing, forgiving human on the planet. She is so kind it does not seem possible that she is a real life human being. But she is. She is always on my side. And Nixon’s.
My mother, alas, did not really change as much as I had hoped she would. Until nearly the end of her life, she was sarcastic and biting and, tragically, on the side of people I disliked (and that my father disliked, especially Michael R. Milken). I was elected valedictorian of my class at Yale Law School. At the end of my speech, which criticized the Socratic Method and argued for a more humane approach to teaching law, with more information and fewer tears, my mother went over to the dean of Yale Law School, Professor Pollak, and said (pointing at me), “Pay no attention to him. He was always a trouble maker.”
God bless my mother. She suffered a cruel blow when she was about ten when her father, whom she worshiped, died suddenly of a slip on an icy sidewalk in the small town, Monticello, New York. She never recovered.
But that was about 1925. Now, it’s 2022. My wife and I live in Beverly Hills, and there’s no ice.
My wife is the kindest, most saintly human that has ever existed, as far as I know. She is my Savior. It’s Mother’s Day and I have the best mother on the planet.