My grandfather is a difficult man. He has expressed, over the years, hatred of every type of person from women (father of three daughters) to African Americans to homosexuals to Native Americans. The worst human being in his view is the liberal female politician, since she is crazy, stupid, and in power.
He’s always been cool with Martha Stewart, though.
He’s in his 80s and health issues start to pile up now. 6’4″ and hale for most of his life, working in construction since childhood, he’s only started to seem “old” in the past few years. His mom lived to 89 with a retiree’s diet of vodka, Twinkies and “Wheel of Fortune,” but he’s outlived both his father and brother by many years.
For a long time I had nothing left to say to my grandpa. I couldn’t forgive him, as an adult making my own way in a still-sexist world, for raising my mom and aunts to think they were useless girls.
I couldn’t forgive him for programming my brilliant mother to see herself as emotionally troublesome and useless outside the house.
Now, many years have passed and journeys taken. I don’t necessarily believe in forgiveness, especially towards someone who has never sought it from anyone in his life. This is not a post about how I can see the old guy’s point of view, generational differences, letting go of anger, blah blah blah.
I don’t have much emotion left, and I do not excuse a man of any generation for holding his daughter as lesser than a son.
My grandpa’s having a tough go right now and I had to admit to myself that I do care. Here’s why.
He’s John Wayne.
I know that sounds like I’m romanticizing, but it’s true. He looks just like him. He hunts, builds, tilts his head to one side before making a joke. He has this restrained way of refusing to express an opinion, (assuming it’s about a subject close to home, and not Hillary Clinton).
He was still working on his own roof at, like, 70.
Maybe I’m still influenced by one time I was hanging out in his shop with him and a cousin. I was 9 or 10, and I heard him mutter a swear word – my grandparents don’t swear. Next thing I know Grandma is taking him to the hospital because he’s cut the tip of his finger off on his table saw.
Another fingertip went about fifteen years later. Context: He was 65, 70. I date men now who can’t go a week late on their haircut without complaining, and god forbid you need help with anything involving a drill.
I quote him when ranting about Seattle’s inability to deal with traffic and public transit issues.
I get the same pissed off, “Get off my property” rebellious anger when dealing with bureaucrats – they don’t teach you that in the postwar world. It is deep and it is genetic. A pacifist, I wonder sometimes at my quiet inclination to maybe, quietly, get some shooting lessons. Just in case.
Where does this come from? Many will say, attitude is not genetic, but they’ve found now that trauma impacts your DNA. Can roofing a house at 14 give you a feirceness you pass on, even if to a “dumb” granddaughter?
He does not see me as dumb. But I feel that if I had taken his opinions seriously, growing up, I would have been. I feel I had to make my capability a non-issue.
Maybe he’d say his dad made him feel the same way.
I’m trying, struggling, to express a true dichotomy. Is it love if someone is woven through you? Even if that person has, at best, come to respect you in your third decade because you gave him no option?
Even if, at best, he has forgotten how to hate and now just wants to chill the fuck out.
I have no words of redemption for my grandfather. But his ethos has influenced mine. Not the hate, but definitely the determination.
What can I say? John Wayne was beloved for a reason, Republican bastard though he was.
Maybe he’ll make 90 and I’ll read this to him.