An elegy for an old man
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|   Mar 08, 2017
An elegy for an old man

“We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life - those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.”

― Oswald Chambers

I did not like my paternal grandfather much.

I found him a cold, quiet and detached man. I also detested him for being a bit of a miser as he rarely bought me anything; he didn't even seem to understand the universal truth that kids love toys! His entire existence was abysmally spartan: a simple home; a simple set of clothes; a simple set of possessions. No matter how many times I visited him, everything about him seemed to be just as it was when I had left. It was as if he had condemned himself to live in an isolated time-warp.

In contrast, my maternal grandmother used to tell me stories, hand-feed me, buy me books and toys and make me the most delicious mango ice-cream. She did everything that I expected grandparents to do, full of love. She was popular with my friends too. She was the polar opposite of everything my grandfather seemed to be. I absolutely adored her, and I often wondered why my grandfather couldn't be more like her. 

One day when I was in college, my grandfather told me there are just two things that motivate people: money and lust. He told me that I should be careful about trusting people, or getting too attached to them. I respectfully nodded my head, but had a good laugh about this with my friends, behind his back. In my head, I ridiculed him for thinking on these lines in his 80s.

My grandfather died some time later. Even in death, he was true to his nature: it was a sudden ailment, and his passing was relatively quick and painless. I cried, but it was mostly because of the pain my parents were feeling, rather than any deep sense of personal loss. I did not attend his funeral because I was busy chasing the American dream.

Some years later, I realized that dream and everything it entails -- the cars, the stocks, the homes with picket fences, the green card -- is materialistic and shallow, and gave up on it. A few more years later, my life fell apart suddenly and I realized that the simple line he told me many years was profoundly true, and defined the actions of a lot of people I was dealing with. Even his other statement about attachment was a wise forewarning: it only seemed to bring only fear of loss or misery.

I had no idea what made my grandfather tell me those things, or what he had experienced to feel that way. I asked my father about my grandfather's life. My grandfather had lost both his parents at a very young age. He had been forced to support his siblings from when he was a child himself. Like most people back then, he did not even experience childhood. One of his own children, born when he was in his 20s, had died. He was cheated of some property by his own relatives. Like millions of others at that time, he had known nothing but abject poverty. He had been forced to marry and care for family and children, with no choice. But somehow, he managed to learn English, get a job, build a home, and retire as the principal of a British-founded convent. He had even paid for my father to fly abroad for his studies. Later, he had lost his wife after a prolonged illness in which he spent many years caring for her, some single-handedly. My father had a lot of stories about how his former students liked him enough to keep visiting him from faraway places many years after his retirement.

I had known some of these things about my grandfather, but I was so clouded by my general apathy for the man that I hadn't cared enough to know the details.

It was evident what my grandfather had tried to tell me through his words and the way he lived his life were lessons he had gained from his bitter experiences of survival. This was not mere self-preservation; it was surviving the loss of practically everyone a man could call his own, and tirelessly discharging his duty to the ones that remained. If one were to lose their parents, their child and even their spouse, could they be blamed for not caring at all for the trinkets that Life tempts everyone with? 

My grandfather's words had only begun to make sense to me when I was confronted with a fraction of the loss he must have experienced. Isn't that what they say about having to walk a mile in someone's shoes to be able to really understand them? 

These days, as I educate myself about the myth of patriarchy, I have begun to comprehend what ordinary men -- men like me -- endured silently in those days relative to what I complain about today. I now realize there is so much more I could have understood if I had only bothered looking under the façade of the man who lived the last few years of his life with me.

I could have been a much better man.

The story of my grandfather is hardly unique for his time. The struggles of the women of that era are well-documented. They did not have the same access to employment and education that men did. Their existence was stifled and cloistered. But scores of men lived or died through war, disease and poverty. They, too, had none of the freedoms we take for granted these days. As children, they were forced to get married, to care for and protect others, to fight in wars for someone else's land, to take up dangerous occupations and to pinch every penny possible, just to support their families.

These men did all this and more with the hope that their children would be better off than them. They accepted their fate with stoicism and equanimity. Their everyday life was an act of courage in itself. They had no voice, and no sociologists or historians wrote about their lives. They were boys, forced to grow up too soon. They were disposable, in every sense of the word. 

What we have today is a generation of men brainwashed by feminist revisionist history into feeling shame or contempt for these men. Instead of recognizing that alpha men subjugated both men and women, we blindly self-flagellate ourselves with tags of potential rapists and molesters to compensate for the perceived imaginary sins of a generation of men whose selfless sacrifices actually made us who we are.

Grandpa: this is decades too late, but thank you. I am proud of you.

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