Taking comfort in your heroes' failings
Beware of ancestors reduced to caricatures of perfection
I recently discovered that my grandfather, a businessman revered in my family who passed away 30 years ago, secretly left the family business in shambles and debt when he died.
I found this discovery quite comforting, because it lessened the pressure of living up to his legacy.
Though I didn’t get too many years with him, the limited—but vivid—memories add up to a man who was up at 3 in the morning reading the newspaper, who looked dressed up and ready for business even in his sleepwear, who always had candies and liquor from trips all over the world, and who’d personally take me to the barber every week to keep my haircut sharp.
I love my grandpa, but these impeccable memories of him (along with stories I later heard about his exploits) created a standard that everyone in my family struggles to live up to. Personally, I’ve always felt less gritty and less worthy than him, feeding into feelings of shame and to workaholic behavior through the years.
Hearing that he failed at the end makes him more human, less god in my psyche. It lets me know that I’m not dishonoring my genes when I fail too.
I would also love to find out that, despite his dutiful early rising and buttoned up image, my grandpa could be lazy too. That he had days, weeks even, when he just sat on ass and looked like a slob. I’m sure it must’ve happened, but it’s impossible to imagine.
It’s good to remember that we wrap our role models (especially dead family patriarchs and matriarchs) in a mythologized mantle that’s unattainable and inaccurate. Our “heroes” should be sources of comfort and hope, not specters of perfection that was never there.