I’ve now seen Wonder Woman eight times. And each time I’ve cried at the No Man’s Land scene.
Sure, I’m thrilled this is where Diana’s superhero self finally emerges. But – preparing to attend a recent public appearance by the film’s director and two of its stars here in NYC – I realized I was crying for a much more personal reason.
It wasn’t from thinking about my wife or daughter, because I’m not married and have no kids. What it was from is remembering something my mom once did... something I hadn’t thought about for many years. (FYI, if she hadn’t died in 1993, my mom would have recently celebrated her 98th birthday.) Here’s her story and why I now know she’s my original Wonder Woman.
My father suffered from malignant narcissistic personality disorder. Because he hated his life, he terrorized everyone around him. I realize now he probably wanted us to all be as miserable as he was inside. Huge angry outbursts at the smallest perceived slight were the norm. He demanded we treat him like a King, always serving his needs before our own. If we didn’t, he would blow up emotionally. He had a very loud voice. And sometimes he would blow up physically. My mother was the primary target when that happened. My sister and I had to literally save her life twice. It was that bad. And he “gaslighted” the family constantly, demanding we agree with his points of view on everything. In 1964, my mom had had enough. And she, my sister and I moved to Cleveland to live with her sister. This lasted about six months, while my mom thought about her future, prepared to divorce my father and start anew. But my sister and I were not to be part of her new chapter. At my father’s insistence, we moved back to NYC. If you think it odd the courts would permit a father to get custody of the children, that decision was never made. That’s because the divorce did not happen. And here’s where my mom became Wonder Woman: Without her physically there, my father had taken to lecturing my sister and I. And those lectures were frequently about how bad our mother was. We were not permitted to interrupt these lectures. We could not ask questions. We could only listen. And they lasted for hours.
After a few weeks, my mom noticed a change in how I sounded when we talked on the phone. As much as I had tried to resist my father’s “programming”... his efforts to poison me with his lies... my mom knew I was changing... my sister too, I’m sure. And so, she decided to return to NYC. She decided to cross No Man’s Land. And while she wasn’t saving the people of a small town as Diana does in the film, she was doing something equally important. She was saving my sister and I from this “god of war and hate” who was our father. The next three years were very, very hard for her. I’ll never know how hard, because we didn’t talk about the abuse she took. She was there to fight for the love of her son and daughter. And she won that fight! How do I know? When I was 13, she and my father did divorce. And I very happily began to live with just her. My sister at that point was old enough to be on her own.
My mom’s unconditional love triumphed over my father. I saw his conditional love for the poison it really was.
When you’re a kid, you don’t necessarily see the world in very sophisticated ways. At ages 10-13, I was still building a sense of identity separate from my father’s example, which I was determined not to follow. It was during this period (1965-68) that Star Trek aired on NBC. And I credit it with showing me people who championed the values of tolerance and love of diversity in how they lived... an example I desperately sought. But while those values were rarely on display at home, what was on display was my mom’s unconditional love. My father’s love was the most conditional kind possible: “If you love your father, you’ll do what you’re told!” My mother loved me for being whoever I really was... whoever I was becoming.
So, thank you, Mom, for risking it all to live with the “god of war” at that critical time. And thank you, Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and everyone else associated with Wonder Woman. You put me in touch with who my mom was back then in a way I never was before. Like my mom, you know that “only love can save the world.” It saved me then. It can save everyone today!
Here are two pictures of me with my Wonder Woman. And below them is the No Man’s Land scene, which is now on YouTube for all to experience again. Enjoy!
Read other HuffPost essays by Steve Brant dating to 2005 in the Archive
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Watch Steve Brant speak at Rotary International’s NYC club on creating a world beyond war... one based on love rather than hate: