Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Somebody Died

Somebody in my family died this weekend.

Actually, to be more accurate, my paternal grandfather died this weekend. But, I just called him "somebody" because that is who he had become in my life.

My dad's Dad was never the kindly grandfather you see on television and read about in children's books. How could he fill that role when he was never an actual father to my dad?

That failure by my grandfather created a massive chasm in our relationship; a chasm that could never be crossed. I saw my grandfather a few times when I was child, but the casual disdain my father showed for everything he did or said really guided me as to how I dealt with the man.

My father must have truly been hurt when he was a child. He says he always knew who his father was and actually lived with him until he was five years old. But, then my grandfather left, and my father and his two brothers and sister became one more black family without a man. Forced to work by the time he was eight years old, my father says that he learned some cruel lessons on the street, lessons he won't even share with me.

My pops never let go of that hurt. And I am my father's son.

I understand that my grandfather was sick his final few years, that he had withered away as cancer and hard living finally caught up with him. I still remember him as a boisterous man who loved to talk about black history and WWII. As children, my brother and I completed many school projects just with the books and other material my grandfather gave us for free. He earned two Bronze Stars, a Silver Star and a Purple Heart in WWII, but I never got to hear him tell his stories about that time.

He was willing, but I never let him.

One time, when I was in college, my grandfather came to D.C. on business and tried to catch up with me to have lunch. I made plans with him and was supposed to meet him at a local diner. The meeting slipped my mind, and I overslept like a typical college kid. I've always pictured that proud man waiting at that diner for me to show, and then finally giving it up when it became clear that one more overture on his part had been spurned.

If my father never got past his pain, I never learned to see anything but that pain when I looked into my grandfather's face. He was usually nice to me, but whenever I gazed into this face, a face that was a slimmer version of my father's, I saw a five-year old boy without a daddy trying to learn how to be a man.

To many people in this world my grandfather was Somebody, but to me he was just somebody.

It's a sad thing when the sins of the father are fostered upon the second and third generation, but that's what happened in my family. Those bonds that should have existed were never created, the love that typically blooms died on the vine. There was never any chance that I would love my grandfather because the blueprint for our relationship was laid when he walked away from his responsibilities 50 years ago.

My grandfather never got a chance to tell me his story. I never heard why he made the choices he made and how he lived with the mistakes of his life. My ears were never open because I figured I knew every word he was going to say.

So, he died as just another somebody.


Gye Greene said...

Big Man,

I enjoy your political blogs -- but I enjoy your personal blogs as well.

And I particularly enjoy when you manage to make the personal, political. Whether or not that was intended...

How about the grandparents on the other side? My pet theory is that kids have a "close" set of grandparents that are the favorites, and a "distant" set (often both emotionally and geographically). Is that true with you?

Also: A little ironic -- the "not hearing his story" -- given that you're a journalist. Or, is that part of the story that LED you to be a journalist?


Anonymous said...

Big Man,
I am sorry for your loss. For your father's loss and his father's too.

I pray that the knowledge you have of just what your losses are and have been, previous to this passing, will continue to serve to strengthen and guide you. It would certainly appear to be the case and for that, if nothing else, you have taken your father's pain and forged it into something better for your son. That is no small thing.

Unknown said...

Big Man -

I am sorry for your loss. For what all of you lost. It seems that words fail me at this moment and I have none of lolo's eloquence, so let me just say ditto.

I have learned a hard lesson in the past four years that forgiving - especially when it comes to family members, does not mean forgetting. I wish that I could go back in time and wake up college age Big Man and tell him that before sending him off to the diner. I wish that you could have heard those stories.
You and your family are in my prayers.

Big Man said...

Thank y'all for your heartfelt comments. And, I appreciate your condolences, but to be totally honest this event hasn't really been a huge shock in my life.

It's just caused me to reflect some, and decide that maybe I need to pay some more attention to relationships I have with people before it's too late.


My mom's parents were the "favorite" grandparents both because she was close to them and because they only lived an hour or so away from my house. My dad's family all lives in another state. So, we were closer to my mom's side of the family, although both of her parents have been dead for a while.

Anyway, my pops changed his mind and decided to go the his dad's funeral. My mom told him she thought that was the right thing for him to do.

Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...


I didn't realize you had such a deep rooted disdain for the man. Given your post, could you be minimizing a bit when you say you acted as a typical college kid? Maybe you overslept because you didn't want to see him? I remember that event, it was your freshman year. You seemed uninterested in meeting him.

When you said it hasn't been a big shock, you said a lot. Until I read your blog this morning, I'd forgotten that he passed. That really bothers me. Hell, I even forgot to tell me wife about it this weekend.

Truthiz said...

I too want to express my sincere condolences to you and your family for your loss.

I never knew my biological father so it goes without saying that I never knew my paternal grandparents.

However, I was extremely Blessed to have been raised primarily by two phenomenal maternal grandparents (now deceased) that, in many ways, more than made up for my other grandparents not being there!

As an independent thinking, Black female, I feel that nobody has ever known me or understood me better than my grandfather. He was (and remains) my greatest Hero and teacher. He led by example and was the first person to teach me that_out of hard-work, caring about others and even having to sometimes suffer great pain_ can come Excellence.

IMO what you bring to the table through your blog, most days, is nothing less than Excellent in its presentation and relevance to the lives of everyday people!

Again, my sincerest condolences to you, and your family for your loss.

OG, The Original Glamazon said...

Close or not, he was a somebody with which you share DNA and for that I offer my condolences on your loss.

Very powerful and, unfortunately, common story for many black men in our generation. Those absentee fathers/grandfathers were the beginning of the deterioration of the black family, in my opinion. Many men repeated that cycle. Thank goodness your father did not.

Great Post! I think I'm becoming a regular here. *smile*


Imhotep said...

Big Man, Thank for sharing your most personal of story with us. Forgive me for going in a direction that could appear inapproriate, I mean no disrespect.

I guess it would be polite for me to wish condolences, and I want to, but when you say "Somebody died" I'm at a loss for words. His relationship with you was good, so how is he "somebody"?

Obviously there has been a lot of hurt feelings toward your grandfather, but from what you have written, I don't see where he did anything against you. That he was not a good father, did not keep him from being a good frandfather, he was denied the opportunity.

He was reaching out to you, and was shunned, because you were fighting your father's fight against his dad. I speculate that on some level you were hoping for your dad's approval to have a meaningful relationship with your grandfather, and it never came.
Peace to you and your family.

Lenoxave said...

All the best Big Man. I just had to bury a Mother who was absent and never raised me.

The irony of having to take care of her at the end of her life, when I never knew her, is something else.

Big Man said...


I have no problem with your comment, my skin is pretty thick.

Actually, your comment is on point. Honestly, my grandfather was a cool dude to me.

Like I said, he brought my brother and I lots of interesting artifacts and he was never mean to us. In fact, he taught us how to play dominoes and gave us our first set of dominoes. He wasn't perfect, far from it, but I can't say that he was a bad man to me.

It really wasn't that I resented him because of what he did to my pops, it was more like I just never really cared that much about what happened to him because my dad didn't encourage me to care. I'm of the opinion that children learn from their parents to respect and love their grandparents and if their is a disconnect between those earlier generations then it can be difficult for children to overcome.

I'm sure I took my pops side in the dispute; he raised me to look askance at any man who didn't care for his seeds, and always told my brother and I that we could never seek refuge from our responsibilities in his home if we had children out of wedlock. Yet, I know for a fact that he was friends with men who didn't take care of their outside kids and treated them with respect.

I honestly wish my father wasn't as bitter towards my grandfather because I believe it's damaged his ability to be the best father he could be to my brother and I. Yet, considering some of the things that happened in his life, I understand where his pain comes from, and can relate.

Anyway, without a doubt I share a lot of the blame for not having a close relationship with my grandfather. I tried to convey my guilt in that respect, but also just to acknowledge the reality that the man died as just another somebody in my eyes.

Thanks everybody for reading and sharing your own stories.

All-Mi-T [Thought Crime] Rawdawgbuffalo said...

not true, as long as u emeber he is somebody

Anonymous said...

Why didn't you break the chain of neglect, pain and hate?
Do you know how he ( your grandfather was treated by his own father?)

Big Man said...


I didn't break it because I wasn't a good enough person.

I think my grandfather had issues with his own pop as well. My dad said he doesn't know anything about that side of his family, which is also pretty weird.

Anonymous said...

I had a bad vibe with relation to my maternal grandfather, who died some 30-ish years ago. But in my case, the disdain was years AFTER his death. He was always great to me and doted on me (his first grandchild...and a grandSON, too boot). But in later years, I started to clue in on how abusive he had been to his children, even sexually, apparently, with at least one of my aunts when she was a child. It really cast him in a new and horrible light.

And to this day, I haven't been able to shake that. The fact that most of the good times he spent with me were when I was so young (he died young, in his 50s) didn't help him retain a fond place in my memory.

In any case, whether condolences for your loss...or the fact you never connected in a better way with him...or something else...my condolences all the same.

All I can say is, your death in the family seems to have been a bigger deal than mine this week, even though I had a better relationship with my uncle than you with your grandfather.

Death sucks. You always think of the stuff you should have done when it's too late to do it anymore.

Anonymous said...

Big Man, thanks for sharing your story and I also send my condolences. ...I also appreciated the other comments.

Anyway, I believe that something can always be learned from death from those close and far away. At this point in my life, my brother is my only biological existing relative -- yet I feel blessed... because those experiences helped form my current state of mind -- which, I believe, is for the better. Not to sound so cliche, but death helped to teach me how to live (not including doing dishes and cleaning, of course!). ...I was also fortunate to have a couple of new "family members" step in...

I'm also convinced that forgiveness of others' weaknesses is essential to go on leading a healthy life. At one point I was resentful and when i dropped that feeling, I became much better for it -- mentally and emotionally. I make this statement with extreme non-judgmental humility as the dynamics of everyone's personal experience is unique.(no, I can't begin to your situation Deacon)

I don't think that "being good enough a person" is at issue, so much as just making a decision on which is the way that you want to go through life. Of course, this process is different for everybody.

In any case, this has become one of my favorite blogs because of the spirit and authenticy that emanates from your posts -- whether political, personal, or both.

Big Man said...

I really appreciate those thoughts MODI particularly considering the work you do.

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