Michael Oher: Mother and Early Life in Memphis

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Blind Side" by Michael Lewis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who was Michael Oher’s mother? What was his early life like?

Michael Oher’s mother, Denise, lived with Michael and his siblings in Hurt Village in Memphis. According to The Blind Side, Michael remembers Denise loving her children, even though she couldn’t provide for them.

Read more about Michael Oher, his mother, and his difficult childhood.

Michael Oher: Mother Offers Clues

The bits and pieces of his history that Michael had shared with Leigh Anne and Sean, and the parts the Tuohys were able to piece together on their own, amounted to very little. It would be years before they learned the true history of this boy they’d taken in and given a home and why he was the way he was. But Michael’s history helped highlight why he reacted the way he did after the incident with Antonio and the little boy.

Michael’s Early Life

Michael Oher’s mother Denise, or Dee Dee, didn’t start out as a person who was likely to grow up and lose her children. She had an uneventful childhood, but darkness was quick to come into her life, and it never left. When she was a child, her father was murdered in his bed. After that, her mother became an alcoholic and could no longer care for Dee Dee and her brother, Robert. The two children were removed from the home and placed in an orphanage, where they stayed until Dee Dee was 15. 

When Dee Dee left the orphanage, she fell in with a group of wayward kids. She started doing drugs and drinking, and five years later, she had her first child with a man named Odell Watkins. Over the next six years, she and Odell had four more children, although he was not a father figure or partner to her. At the age of 27, Dee Dee decided to leave Odell. It wasn’t long before another man walked into her life by way of her brother Robert. 

Robert was serving his first prison sentence for murder and made a friend in jail named Michael Jerome Williams. Michael Sr. was getting out of jail, and Robert asked him to visit Dee Dee and give her an update on how he was doing. Dee Dee and Michael came together quickly, and she was pregnant again shortly after. Dee Dee was deep into drugs and had no job or money, but she welcomed her new son, Michael Jerome Williams Jr., into the world happily. 

Michael’s father didn’t stick around long after he was born and ended up back in prison. Dee Dee no longer wanted her child named after that man, so she started referring to him as Michael Oher, her last name. Four years and four more children later, Dee Dee was firmly addicted to crack and using her government checks to support her habit, leaving her 7 boys and 3 girls to fend for themselves. Michael’s earliest memories are of going for days without food, drinking water to get full, and sleeping outdoors. 

Despite these hardships, Dee Dee’s children loved her. She wasn’t mean and told them she loved them often, and Michael and his siblings started to worry that they’d get taken away from her and separated from each other. In April 1994, when Michael was almost 8, their worst nightmare came true. Police officers showed up to take Dee Dee’s children. The boys were able to escape, but the girls were taken away. Michael never saw his sisters again. 

Michael Oher: Mother and Early Life in Memphis

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Michael Lewis's "The Blind Side" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full The Blind Side summary:

  • How Michael Oher went from the projects in Memphis to the NFL
  • Why the combination of size and speed became essential for football stars
  • How Oher was taken in by the wealthy Tuohy family

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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