Yesterday was the third anniversary, presaged here.
It was a strange day. Periods of intense busy-ness, interrupted by short spells of nothing-ness, waiting for the next interviewee to turn up. In those gaps, I found myself considering a recent post I made on a forum that I frequently haunt, on the subject of what constitutes a “real man”:
A real man supports and nurtures the hopes and dreams of those he loves. A real man is not threatened by the success of his partner. A real man defends home and family, feeds the poor, tends the sick. A real man is kind to animals, children, and fools. A real man treats all around him as equal. A real man confesses his weaknesses, and is not afraid to seek help when he needs it. A real man listens as much as he talks. A real man stands up when he sees injustice. A real man finds happiness in the happiness of others. A real man laughs quickly and angers slow. A real man finds the good, the kind word, where others only see fault and seek to belittle. A real man has no need to apportion blame, and freely admits when he is in the wrong. A real man seeks the pleasure of his lover before his own. A real man… is hard to find…
At least that’s what my daddy taught me…
It started off as a simple, “wonder what I missed out that would piss him off?”, and extended to a consideration of the root of our behaviour and belief. Or, more specifically, my dad’s.
His own father died when he was only 14, apprenticed to a neighbouring shepherd. As oldest son, he was thrust into the unenviable position, of having to return home to support his mother and assist her in the raising of 10 siblings, the youngest of whom was just a baby. Otherwise, the family would have faced certain eviction, and a whole slew of unthinkable alternative realities which that could have set in motion. The “duty” affected the course of his entire life; delaying marriage into his mid-thirties, eliminating any possibility of following through on his boyhood plans to emigrate to Australia, and, no doubt, innumerable other hopes and dreams which could no longer come to fruition. Although my paternal grandmother died shortly after I was born, my youngest Aunt wasn’t married out of our house till I was 7.
Somewhere, amongst that, my father was forged into the man I grew up to know. Then it hit me. The 14-year-old version of my dad was coached and supported by a whole range of community elders. Wullie Hunter, David Dickie, Iain Brown; Uncle Geordie, Colin Campbell, and various names I no longer remember. It was surely the behaviour and beliefs of these gentle men which had, in addition to his own father, moulded him through these early years.
In that moment, the concept of “remembering the ancestors” made complete sense. The ancestral line is what defines us, at a primary, fundamental level. It is the ancestors who connect us to the earliest flowering of civilisation, beliefs and values. It is the ancestors who gift us the landscapes, physical and emotional, in which we live out our lives. It is the ancestors who bind all of us, one to the other.
Only through the action of allowing ourselves to reconnect with that vast lineage of pooled experience, hopes and dreams, can we fully achieve the best of what makes us human; and by accepting the limitations of that humanity, achieve our highest calling.