The most racist thing I have ever heard my paternal grandfather say is “wow, there sure are a lot of black people” when looking at my high school yearbook. At the time I flipped out, but in hindsight I think he is open minded for a white fella his age. He’s a liberal guy, and a Greek who married a Swede, so he knows a little something about dating outside his culture. So I was taken a little aback the other night when I had an uncomfortable moment discussing Charles.
I was visiting my Grandparents’ house, where my Dad lives, to borrow some money from my Dad to buy glasses (I have to pay up front to be reimbursed by my flexible spending account.) Things were weird the moment I got there. I expected things to be very warm, and hoped to have dinner with them, but instead things felt tense, which felt disappointing, since I was in a nice mood to have dinner and visit with my family.
My Dad looked awful. He is doing really well, he is taking medication and not drinking as far as I know, but his appearance wasn‘t nice. He has grown his mustache out really long hanging down, which could be cool by itself, but he also has long brassy hair, and he refuses to trim his eyebrows, which are extremely long. Also, he is missing his bottom two front teeth. He had an opportunity to have dentures done pro-bono, but he chose not to because he would have to be toothless for a month. I just can’t see how that would be worse than how his teeth are now.
All in all he looks like a crazy person. I had thought it would be a fun thing for him and I to take my friend’s 6 year old to the science museum, he is great with kids. But when I saw him I decided not to ask him. I love him for who he is, but I don’t buy that this is who he is. He used to take more pride in his appearance, he looks like Richard Dreyfuss when he tries. But somehow he is rebellious, which can look good if it is done right, if it looks intentional, not lazy. I just hate how his appearance could be hurting him. People wont take him as seriously, and I can’t help but imagine how lonely that is.
So seeing him look bad wasn’t nice, but if he is taking medication, not drinking, and has a job I am happy. He really will do a lot for me which is nice. He was talking about modifying a laptop bag so it would fit my computer, and he has insisted on giving me this money he is loaning me instead of loaning it. I haven’t decided if I should accept it or not. Historically, stuff like giving me money was how he told himself he was being a good parent. When I would have traded having him give me money with having him make sure I did my homework and cleaned my room. But today, my dad doesn’t have a lot to be proud of, so if I can make him feel good, that he is providing for his daughter, it might actually be selfish to not let him do that. And come on, how hard is it to let someone give you money?
I was chatting about life and Charles came up. I was talking about his research and when he would return. A light bulb appeared and I said “Oh! Have you seen a picture of him yet?” I saw my dad, behind him mouthing “not now.” I sort of snapped at my dad, and said “WHAT? He needs to know eventually” and looked at my grandpa, and with a smile on my face and a “it’s not a big deal” tone in my voice said “Grandpa, Charles is from Africa.” But apparently he knew already.
I showed them all a picture. Grandpa did seem tense (when doesn’t he?) and his comment was “this is a nice phone you have here.” But really, what should I expect? Yes, it is 2006, but my grandparents grew up in a different time. Even I look twice when I see intercultural relationships. He’s not shouting slurs or saying “that man is not welcome in my house.” He is not criticizing my choice (to my face anyway) he is having a hard time with it. Would it be better if color or nationality would be as unimportant to him as if Charles was Finnish or French, yes, that would be how it should be, but our culture has a long ways to go, and people’s conciousnesses are not going to change overnight, it is happening slowly, generation by generation.
I apologized to my dad for calling him out when he said “not now,” I let him know it just came out. I would still show Charles’ pictures, but I shouldn’t have drawn attention to my dad mouthing something behind my Grandpa’s back. My dad said Grandpa had been grumbling before I had gotten there about me marrying a teacher. (No, I am not engaged) My dad said “He won’t say it but I think it’s because he’s black” with a little too much enjoyment in his voice. My fucking dad, I swear he likes this. This is his chance to be “the good guy,” and for his nemesis, his dad to be the bad guy. The two of them argue all the time, so I think my dad just loves that he gets to be so obviously right and superior, and that he can be on my side, when often it is my grandparents (and the whole world for that matter) on my side, and him on the other. It would not be unlike my dad to enjoy stirring up drama. Thanks dad, this is my family, my current family and possibly someone who I want to integrate into the family. Thanks dad for being indelicate and turning it into a power struggle, when in essence all it needs to be is an adjustment to something different happening.
I have some respect for my Grandpa. When I was dating (and living with) a Pakistani he had one day asked me “Is that Haseem as nice as he seems?” I think that when he meets Charles, he will be impressed. My grandpa is a tense guy, and he always has to be the boss, so working within those parameters, I am not going to expect him to be gregarious and warm when Charles and him meet. But Grandpa is not a really warm guy. He is very dry. He tsks and rolls his eyes a lot. That’s just him. I think he will eventually say, “That Charles seems like a very nice man.”