The Building of Walls and Why Pride Sucks
It’s been a long time since I’ve banged on a keyboard and put bytes in the ether in this space. I honestly didn’t know if I ever really planned to after the site got hacked. I have all of the old posts in an archive so I haven’t lost anything but the instant gratification of FB and Twitter seem to have replaced long form blogging. The problem with that is that you don’t really have an archive and the snippets are hard to sort through, hard to get an actual backup of, and usually fairly short form. Twitter is character limited and long form FB posts tend to just get scrolled past. In light of that I decided to write about this here, where I’d have a long term record, the space to ramble, and have everything under my control.
This post was inspired by my Grandfather passing just over a week ago. I did a lot, and I mean a lot, of thinking when he passed. A lot more than I did when my father died in January. The first road I went down was why I was more affected by Grandpa passing than by my dad and I realized that in some that wasn’t true even if it felt like it at the time and in other ways it was because my dad and I were good, we talked (less than I would have liked, but we talked), and I knew where I stood with him and he knew where he stood with me. I had seen my dad shortly before his passing, had spoken to him even more recently, and the kids had all got to put their arms around his neck and hear him say that he loved them. That simply wasn’t the case with my grandfather and that was by my own doing. It all boils down to the fact that I had a good relationship with my dad. Sure I have regrets but that’s a completely normal thing when someone passes, you could have always called one more time, said one more thing, hugged them more, or any other little thing. That’s how grief works.
The walls that I built with bricks made of nothing but pride started when I was a teenager spending summers in Arkansas. While idyllic and beautiful all of my memories aren’t good. The first brick was an instance of the telephone game. My granddad had let me drive the tractor back to the little barn after digging rocks all day and I was quite proud of that. I was over at a friend’s house for dinner, maybe spending the night, and I was talking about my day. Now my granddad would have a beer or two over the course of the day while we were out working. Let me be clear, he drank beer but I never once saw the man drunk. I mentioned what we had done and probably out of jealousy that he’d had some beer, and that I got to drive the tractor back home. This got back to him as me saying he got drunk and I had to drive the tractor back because he couldn’t. That wasn’t what I said, not by any stretch, but that’s what the neighbors thought and that’s what got back to him. He wasn’t pleased, and rightfully so, but in the end he chose to believe them and not me. Even if I was youthfully exuberant and embellished the story, which I don’t remember doing, I felt his reaction was overwrought. Now as an adult I can see why that would upset him, as it did, and today it doesn’t seem unreasonable at all. However he did choose to not believe that I hadn’t said exactly what we relayed back to him. On my side, I held on to that slight and am only dealing with it now. I honestly, in probably damn near twenty-five years, didn’t let that petty shit go. I help on to that pride, and laid the foundation that would create the wall that was still in place when he passed.
The next layer was a slight against my dad. I don’t know why, or that my dad had done to upset him, but Grandpa wasn’t happy with my father and I was in Arkansas staying with him. I don’t remember if he said it to me or I overheard it but he clearly stated that my mom could have done better than my dad. Like I said, I don’t know the circumstances that brought on the statement, and like the incident prior, I can understand popping off in anger and not meaning what was said. I never pursued anything on the topic, I didn’t defend my dad (or at least don’t remember doing so) and I let that little slight fester. I don’t know if that’s what he really thought or if it was just a statement made in frustrated anger. And I never will. I added that the foundation that I had laid and just added to the wall I was already building. I simply couldn’t let go.
Those two alone were enough to create a rift such that when I stopped being a kid and stopped going up for the summers I pretty much didn’t write or call. I wasn’t actively not speaking to him but I certainly wasn’t reaching out. I doubt he even knew why I wasn’t, I doubt he even knew I harbored resentment about those two things that seem so small today.
The rest of the wall was all me and had really nothing to do with him. As an adult, before I got my shit together, I borrowed some money from him. Like all of my borrowing back then I fully intended to pay him back. I never intended to be a complete flake but the reality is that I was. I didn’t give a time frame but I guess a three or four years make things pretty obvious and he was rightfully upset with me about it. When my grandmother passed 14 years ago I tried to mend fences and told him, in person, that I had changed and wanted to right that wrong. He told me that when they loaned me the money he knew I wasn’t going to pay it back and he told grandma that they’d consider it a gift before he even sent it and that he didn’t want the money. I accepted this and was glad to know that we had talked and that we were alright. Some part of me wanted the wall I was building torn down.
Unfortunately I heard through the grapevine that he later said I had taken advantage of him in his grief and was upset about it. I never even remotely thought that was the case and certainly was never my intention. However this didn’t make sad and want to fix the problem, this made me angry and my pride wouldn’t let me change things. When you say thing you mean a thing, goddammit! This was not the last brick but some of them I took offense for others and those aren’t my stories to tell. This was the brick that changed things from simply not seeking engagement to avoidance. There were other perceived slights along the way, but in the end these are the major incidents that I can chalk up to my pride being my worst enemy and that are my stories to tell.
To put things simply, I was wrong to not let go of things, I was wrong to take offense for others, and I was wrong to not be in contact with the man. I had mostly come to this realization before he passed as I tend to self evaluate and this had come to mind, but I hadn’t found that right moment, that perfect circumstance, to make things right. I didn’t want anything to seem contrived or forced, I wanted to make a gesture. That was pride as well and it was wrong. In the end my pride cost me years of being in contact with a pretty amazing grandfather. I watched all the birthday cards he sent my kids, I watched them open the Christmas presents he bought, I made them write thank you notes for them, I thought about the ones that never met them and how they should, and I didn’t pick up the phone and say “I’m sorry, I’ve been a jerk, I’d like you to be in my life”. It doesn’t matter whether he was ever right or wrong in any of the things I was so all-fired upset about, what matters is that I held on to that resentment and stoked those fires. I let pride rob me of this relationship and in the end my pride kept him from ever hearing me say that I was sorry.
It’ll never be the right moment to apologize, it shouldn’t be a gesture, and pride will rob you of things that you want. The lesson I’ve learned here, and am still learning is that there’s no time like the present, there’s no guarantee of tomorrow, and if you need to say that you’re sorry then pick up the phone, make the drive, write the letter, or however you want to do it but don’t wait, you might not get the chance.
Grandpa, you’ll never read this, but I’m sorry. I’m sorry if I said anything that could have been construed as you being drunk that day. I’m sorry I let a comment about my dad, obviously made in anger, fester for all of these years. I’m sorry I never reached out and payed back that loan. I’m sorry I was a prideful jerk that built a wall and excluded you.
Mark L. Potter