As some of you may know, the past year has been and continues to be very stressful and trying time for me and my family — leaving my job, leaving our family home of over 30 years, and my Dad being terminally ill currently. Add to that, February 25th was the 10-year anniversary of the passing of my maternal grandmother who practically raised me and this month is culminating in a fashion that has brought this 28thyear of my life to an unquestionable all-time low. However, when thinking of all of this, particularly the anniversary for my Grandma’s death, I began thinking about how she has impacted my life — more specifically, the pieces of her personality (good and bad) that transferred from her to become part of myself. I also thought about the pieces of myself that I have received from my Mom & Dad; and, I began to think about what pieces, if any, that I’d want to leave to my children or others close to me. There a lot of pieces of myself that I received from my Grandma, Mom & Dad; but, here are a couple of the more prominent pieces and some reasoning around them.
As I have mentioned previously, my maternal grandmother played a leading and pivotal role in raising me. I credit her with a lot of the core values and traits that I live by today. However, there are three traits came to mind, both, good and bad that I received from her. First and foremost, I learned a lot about leadership and leadership style from my Grandma. Growing up, I was annoyed by what I thought was my Grandma doing the most by being so active in church and in the community (the same goes for my Mom) with seemingly everyone in Cleveland know who she was. I would hate being dragged to church meetings or nursing home visits with her. Little did I know at the time that she was modeling her leadership — servant leadership — to me. Subsequently, servant leadership is something that I take to heart as an adult and I do my best model it every day. Part of her leadership skills included an instinctiveness or intuition that drove her decision-making which I have similarly followed. I learned from my Grandma how to read people and know within minutes of an encounter whether they are genuine or up to no good. This instinctiveness or intuition is about energy and its correlation to words and deeds, which is hard to ignore and usually very accurate. Granted, it’s not perfect but it has not led me astray yet. Then, the cornerstone of my Grandma’s (and my) relationships with family and friends is an intense loyalty. We may not let a lot of people in; but, once you’re in, you’re in. It is like at the end of Fenceswhere Rose Maxson eulogizes Troy by saying that some people build fences to keep the outside from getting, and some people build fences to keep what is inside from getting out. My Grandma and I are disciples of the latter philosophy.
When examining the cons, they are pretty simple. First, that intense loyalty makes it hard for us to trust others, both, in terms of letting folks in and entrusting our own to others. We are very protective of those people and things we consider “ours” because of a fear that they are possibly all we have. Secondly, I learned her funniest bad habit of cursing — a lot. I sued to get a huge chuckle as a child when my Grandma would be frustrated and say, “Aww Shit” or “Damnit to Hell.” Needless to say, I have picked up where she left off at an early age (don’t tell my Mom). Lastly, most impactfully or detrimentally, I learned the habit of the “do as I say, not as I do” approach to guidance. Often times, I have found myself working on my relationship with my sister advising her on what to do, while not treating her in the manner in which I advise. It is something that I want and need to work on.
My Mom is my best friend and the person who knows me and my habits and behaviors best. We are close and relate to each other, which is why we share a common thread of devotion to family. At a young age to now, I have so many examples of my Mom making large and small sacrifices and going the extra mile to help my sister and I live happier, fuller, and special lives. My Mom will do anything to help her family, even if she just got finished fussing at you just prior; and, that same devotion is what I try to model. That same devotion to family is why my Dad’s health situation bothers me so much because there is no resolution that allows my family to move forward in a positive direction and that bothers me. Next, my Mom and I share a jack-of-all-trades skillset. My Mom can do it all — she can cook, sew, do crafts, write reports, play cards, fold a fitted sheet, and do so much more. She is great at pretty much everything, but rarely can you pin her down to a specific specialty. Similarly, at a professional and social level, I have been able to dabble in and build competencies in a broad scope of genres. Also, I have random knowledge of trivia facts which comes in handy during crossword puzzles and game nights. However, I regret that this master-of-none skillset has hindered my career in terms of getting out of unemployment sooner in a more specialized world. Moreover, I also picked up my Mom’s organizational skills. Her organizational skills manifest itself as a well-arranged house items and folders (though her car is a mess), whereas my organizational skills manifest as OCD-based cleaning, processes and planning. Mom is more detail-oriented where I am a big picture thinker. But, organization — whether at the macro or micro level — is essential.
The cons shared by my Mom & I are very specific due to our close mother-son dynamic. But, the most pronounced one that we share is that we are compulsive spenders. Admittedly, I am much better with money and saving than my Mom, but we have compulsive spending habits. For her, having money seemingly burns a hole in her pockets; whereas, for me, if I see something that I absolutely must have I will not rest until I have it. Many occasions have I left a store without getting something that I like only to go back to the store just before close to purchase that item. In addition, we both avoid conflicts. Mom tends to avoid conflict when she needs to address an issue regarding herself or with someone else — often letting it reoccur or allow someone else to fix it. Often, I avoid conflict specifically with my Dad or with close friends because sometimes I fear arguments may adversely impact the long-term durability and duration of the friendship. Subsequently, that belief is typically rendered false because friendships and relationships should be built to last. However, this belief can sometimes lead to actions that adversely affect the friendship, and as a result become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Lastly, I have noticed that my Mom and I are also sometimes aloof. It is unclear whether it is intentional or not, however sometimes we miss on subtleties or nuances. Particularly, I am aloof when it comes to folks liking me, or certain social cues (i.e., softer handshake for women, loud talking, clumsiness, etc.). Generally, these cons are innocent enough and only really impact us, not others; but, it is always something to keep us striving for better.
As many of you know, my relationship with my Dad is complicated. But, we both love each other immensely though we may never tell each other that directly. It is this complicated relationship and my appreciation for my Dad that has been at the forefront given his terminal health situation. However, it is ironic that arguably my most demonstrable traits are from my Dad considering the closer relationships I have with my Grandma and Mom. Nonetheless, the clearest shared trait with my Dad is the fact that we show love and support through service. My Dad is never the best with words but “he can show you better than he can tell you.” Similarly, though I am good at writing, I often struggle to convey emotions directly or indirectly, so I do acts of service for people as a way to convey my emotions. For example, getting someone a grape soda or a box of pens unsolicited is a sign of me showing thanks or gratitude. My Dad & I do this a lot for each other specifically buying food for each other, it becomes our way of saying thank you, I’m sorry, I love you, I’m proud of you, and much more. So, if I do something nice for you after a compliment or something, that’s me saying thanks. Another significant shared trait is our sense of humor. It’s weird because my Dad is funny and repetitive and I’m funny and emotive. He is loud and physical like Bernie Mac or Robin Harris, whereas I am observational and more deadpan like Chris Rock and Roy Wood, Jr. Nevertheless, we both take pride in making other people laugh. Often, I wonder what my Dad was like at my age and how funny he was then. I wonder if he uses his sense of humor as a way to break the ice with people, build commonality amongst strangers, and yet keep folks at distance from knowing ourselves too well like I do? The last shared positive trait is our persistence and strong work ethic. I have elaborated before about how my Dad worked two jobs almost my entire life and how that sacrifice of family time for family survival shaped me and our dynamic for better or for worse. Moreover, I try to work equally as hard and persist in everything that I do. Yet, I often wonder, if I will provide that same example my Dad gave me onto the next generation? I recognize that he worked that hard so that I would not have to, but I wonder if I don’t work as hard as he did will I ever measure up to being the man that he is? If not, have I failed him? Only time will tell.
The shared cons with my Dad are equally demonstrable starting with the fact that we are both the most stubborn person the other knows. We, both, think that the other thinks that they know everything about everything yet nothing at the same time; and, we do stubbornness to the max. As the old saying goes, “you can be loud or you can be wrong, but you can’t be both,” well they never met Kenneth or Karlton Laster. Next, we are both poor emotional communicators or closed off to those close to us. I have noticed that my Dad and I keep very tight circles and we do a lot with those few folks, but those few folks do not know a lot about us because we do not have or have a hard time sharing with others. My closest friends from high school do not know a lot about me because I don’t often share. I recognize it and will work to change it, but often I don’t know where to start or what they want to know. Lastly, I realize that we share a tendency to annoy or hurt those closest to us. I think that this is emblematic of my Dad and I’s relationship with each other. In many ways, it is how we are the way we are towards each other. However, I have noticed that I can be short with my Mom and sister too. It is something that I want to and need to resolve for long-term sustainability.
Altogether, these are just some of the good and bad pieces of me that I have received from my immediate family. There are plenty of others where that came from, and I am grateful for every piece that I have received from my Grandma, Mom, Dad, and many others. I also hope that you take the time to examine the pieces of you that come from your family and others. Also, I hope that I can pour into my family, friends, and the next generation as much as, if not more than, was poured into me. This interconnectedness of pieces that make up the full puzzle of our lives is essential to knowing ourselves and our future.