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Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine and we were lamenting the seemingly loss of the good Black men who peopled our childhood. For her it was men like her father who were the providers. For me, it was strong men like my grandfather. Although my grandfather was not formally educated, he managed to provide for his twelve kids and open up his modest home to four of his grandchildren.

If I had one word to describe my grandfather it would be warrior!!! My grandfather was a fierce individual. I have never once seen him back down from a challenge. It seemed to me that he lived his life without fear.

In retrospect, I know however that this is not true. My grandfather was born in Mississippi in the early 20th century and lived there his entire life. Undoubtedly he knew about fear.

I came to live with my grandparents in their twilight years and the prevailing attitude in our household was that children were to be seen and not heard. Thus, I know very little of my grandfather’s early life except little anecdotes that my grandmother would occasionally share. My grandfather projected an image larger than life to me when I was a kid.

In addition to being a provider, he was also a strict disciplinarian. My father and my uncles were grown men who were still deathly afraid of their dad. He and my grandmother would clash constantly about the rearing and treatment of their children who still lived at home. Whereas my grandmother would offer the typical maternal coddling, granddad would administer tough love; Sometimes with his fists.

Don’t get me wrong, granddad adhered strictly to the biblical adage of sparing the rod and spoiling the child, but he also had a soft side-that soft way that only real men can combine with a tough and rugged masculinity. For example, every day after school my grandfather would watch cartoons with me and my brother. Although he had a tough exterior, he was the grandparent who would always rough house with us.

In a recent conversation with my brother he fondly recalled my granddad taking him on numerous fishing trips preceded by breakfast at a greasy spoon diner. For my brother, my grandfather projected the epitome of Black manhood.

My grandfather’s waning years was wracked by bad health. As a chronic smoker in his youth, he developed severe emphysema. He could not walk a couple of steps without running out of breath. He eventually became housebound and dependent on oxygen. I still remember him carrying around a cumbersome oxygen tank every time he would take a step. One of the saddest memories I have of him in the last year or so of his life is the dementia that robbed his mind until he could no longer recognize his family.

Granddad finally succumbed to his illness when I was twelve years old. Our family was never quite the same once he passed. Although my grandmother was a pillar of strength in her own right, she didn’t have the power to navigate her wayward sons on a path of manhood that they so thoroughly needed. In fact, most of my uncles seemed to have gotten lost on this path. Today, they are broken and bewildered men stuck on the bottom rung of life.

Maybe my bad luck with men has a direct correlation with my grandfather’s death before I could reach adolescence. It seems that I was always searching for the perfect idealization of Black manhood: Tough virility coupled with a vulnerability that only real family men possess.

It pains me today because so many of our young boys and girls don’t have these models to help them as they circumvent their way through life. As we have seen, without strong black masculine models, our young men become unsavory predators that harm our communities and our young women become their victims. Both become impediments to health and vitality of growth.

Will the real men that we so desperately need please stand up?

Just my take….

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