Wyatt Cenac, you should call your mother.
Who? Most of my friends don’t have a clue who Wyatt Cenac is, but all three of my kids know him, and I’d bet my bottom dollar that your adult kids do too. For years, 39 year old Wyatt Cenac was a regular writer and comedic “correspondent” on The Daily Show. He left in 2012, allegedly after an argument over Jon’s impression of then Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain (watch it here.) Cenec thought the bit was racist; Jon disagreed.
My good friend told me about Marc Maron’s interview with Cenac, part of the podcast series “WTF” She listened to it for what Cenac had to say about Jon Stewart, but pretty darn quickly she focused in on the really important stuff:
“You’re not going to believe this,” she told me, “but Wyatt Cenec has not talked to his mother for over 10 years.”
“Wow, what’d she do?” I asked, hoping she had either beaten him to a pulp, refused to buy him food and water, or kicked him out of the house butt naked.
“That’s the thing,” she continued, “I don’t think she did anything that bad. She sounds kind of like you and me. You’ve got to listen to it and see for yourself.” I cringed a little, shifted in my seat, and later listened to the podcast.
“I don’t talk to either of them,” Cenac told Maron nonchalantly, after explaining that his father (who was divorced from his mother) was murdered when he was 4, that he grew up in Texas with his mother, accountant step-father and cousin. He did not have a “good relationship” with his mom. There was “never a closeness.” She was “controlling and manipulative.” He stopped talking to her before his 29th birthday. For a long time she would try to talk to him, he admitted, but he “wasn’t into it.”
Maron delved in a little further. Did his mother take care of him and give him all the essentials? Yes. Did she lock him in a closet, beat him up, not protect him from a mean stepfather? Nope. Did she send him to college? Actually they sent him to school at Chapel Hill, North Carolina instead of University of Texas, where he got a scholarship.
Wyatt resented the fact that his mother tried to control his life. He says she was a like a stalker: She made him carry a cell phone in high school and lost her mind when he didn’t answer. She violated his privacy by looking through his personal things in high school. She tried to get information about him from his friends. She almost called the police when his car was not parked where he promised to park it. She screamed at him on the phone when he was flunking out of college. She showed up unannounced at his TV show opening (“I was doing most of the yelling,” he admits,“…she tried to remain calm.”)
Wyatt acknowledges that maybe his mom had a little PTSD from first divorcing her husband, then losing him to murder. Ya think? “It makes sense that she would be really controlling,” he acknowledged, because she didn’t want to lose him, her only son. How ironic, he admits, that she lost him anyway.
There is a big push right now for “Free Range” parenting, which seems to be the opposite of “helicopter” parenting. But for those of us for whom “free ranging” doesn’t come naturally, are we doomed to alienate our adult children? It makes me cringe to think that more than a few millennials will listen to the WTF podcast, and think, “wow, my mom was way worse than that.” I am petrified that my own kids will say that, because the truth is, if they stopped talking to me, I think my world would come to an end, and then I would become even more stalker-ish.
Alas, I am afraid I did many of the same things as poor Mrs. Cenec. I made my kids carry their cell phones. I texted their friends when I couldn’t reach them. I lost my mind if they were not where they said they would be. I screamed, I yelled, I threatened, and I carried through. And when one of them almost flunked out of college freshman year, well, I am sure they could have heard my screaming all the way to Texas.
Controlling? Manipulative? I know a lot of women who could show Mrs. Cenac a thing or two about controlling and manipulative. (Am I only one that still thinks that arranged marriages are a good idea?)
In my time, I banned a boyfriend I didn’t like from entering my home. I refused to pay for a prom dress, also because I didn’t like the guy. I grounded my kids from parties I considered unsafe. I took away car keys. I made sure homework was done. I have texted (more than once) “When you don’t answer my texts, I assume you are dead.” I have given boatloads of unsolicited advice on just about every subject you can imagine, “encouraged” them to attend colleges not too far from home. I still make them call “when they get there.”
I’m confused. I always thought the kinds of things that Wyatt Cenac described was just careful, good parenting. So where’s the line? Unless there is more to the story, Wyatt seems like he is stuck in the teenage years, and that is a shame. Because Mrs. Cenac won’t be around forever, and I bet Wyatt is going to feel really, really badly when she dies if he hasn’t made it right. Mark my words (and I can’t believe I actually wrote those last two sentences.)
So, with Jon Stewart’s much anticipated last show coming up this Thursday, lots of inquiring minds want to know: Will Cenac show up? I don’t really care. I’ve decided I don’t like him much. Wyatt, just call your mother.