I have never really experienced death. The closest I ever got was when I was ten years old and my yellow Labrador, Bailey died of cancer. I remember writing a story and goodbye letter for her and reading it in front of my class, but truth be told, it wasn’t much of an eloquent articulation of my feelings. My eyes were filled with tears from the very start of my reading, and as the final sentences reached my lips I couldn’t stop the crying. A girl in the front row had to finish aloud my letter for me, and as she read the words awkwardly about how this kid she barely knew loved his dog, I was filled with grief. It was an experience I’ll never forget; my first taste of the passing of someone I love.
That was the story of a dog. It is no surprise that the death of an animal is no preparation for the passing of a family member, and quite unexpectedly and brashly, I have now realized how truly different the experiences are. This last week, the most important man in my life has died, and there is no girl in the front row to finish my letters for me this time. All I have is this blog and this platform, and a chance to share his memory with you all and what he meant to me.
If it wasn’t for my Grandpa, who we called Chocolate, there is no way I would be in the position I am now doing what I do. Chocolate was the man who took the place of a father for me while my real father was in prison. Chocolate put me through the Boy Scouts - when it was still the BOY Scouts - and was my guide to achieving my Eagle. Chocolate was my guardian on the weekends with my grandmother when my mom worked sixteen hour nursing shifts. And above all else, Chocolate was my hero; he was my vision and embodiment of everything a Good man was supposed to be, and he did it all with love.
He loved my grandmother like she was the only woman on earth, putting her first above everything else. He never had any qualms or complaints about doing something for her, and he supported her and cherished her with pride. If there was ever something she needed, or something where she needed his help in bearing, you didn’t hear a word out of him. All you saw is this courageous, and dutiful husband putting his best foot forward, prioritizing her and doing it with love. He never embarrassed her, and never had an ego to her. What I saw in them was an unbreakable team; an emboldening and steadfast bond that wasn’t about to be broken by some scuffle, or the outside world and their opinions, or some torment of the past. It was a knowledge and patience and want of the other person that couldn’t be explained by some psychiatrist or evolutionary theory. It was an attachment made by the choice to love above all else, and to hold the other person higher than they had ever been held. A conscious effort to put the other person’s head in the stars, with my grandma sitting on Chocolate’s shoulders.
This inspiring, motivated, unflinching connection of souls is what has given me my image of how a man is supposed to treat the woman he loves. If I can have even a tenth of the bravery and commitment that he had to my grandmother, I would be a happy man. I’ve made mistakes in love as we all have, yet when I think of any mistake I made, I always come around to think of Chocolate and what I saw with him, and know what I should do going forward.
When it came to how he treated me, Chocolate was akin to training for a marathon. When you’re on the road running, building your muscles and balancing your stride, you feel terrible. All you want is for it to end. Your breath shortens, your chest tightens, the sweat drops down your forehead, and you wonder why you even started doing this in the first place. But once you run that race and cross the finish line, you feel a sense of achievement like nothing else. All of the pain was worth it.
That’s what it was like growing up with Chocolate. Man, he pushed me hard. Whether it was learning new skills, or the Boy Scouts, or challenging myself and my ideas, he never let up. I have to admit, many times going to see him, I dreaded the experience. I knew that when all the other kids were out playing with their friends, I’d be in the freezing cold outside of a grocery store selling Boy Scout popcorn. Or if my mouth ever opened while I was chewing my food I’d be in for a reprimanding lesson that could span the whole meal. Or if there was anything to do around the house and I did just an okay job with the task the first time, I’d never hear the end of it. He would get angry at me for many things, but every time he pushed me, it wasn’t his own ego. He pushed me because he loved me. If he saw me being selfish, he didn’t get upset at me because it was fun for him, he got upset because that’s not what a man does. If he saw me being lazy, he wasn’t mad because we were wasting time, he was mad because a lazy man is no good. Everything he explained to me he did with compassion and a genuine desire to mold me into a great man. Even if he got angry, I knew he loved me, and he only ever wanted what was best for me.
My greatest memory with Chocolate was the night I got my Eagle Scout. At fifteen years old, I had finished my board of review, and Chocolate was driving me back to my house. For the last ten years we had gone through scouting together, and it had all culminated in this one day, yet on the way back, we didn’t say much. There was some occasional talk about how it went, how the board was, what they asked, but not much more than that. By the time we pulled up to my house it was dark out, and he walked me to my door to unlock it. Just as he finished turning the key and I was about to step inside, I turned back to him and he looked right at me and told me something I’ll never forget. He told me he was proud of me. I hugged him, I thanked him and told him I loved him, and I headed out of the cold back inside. To this day, I think that was the most important thing he ever told me.
I don’t think there are enough people who express how proud they are of people close to them. I don’t mean fake compliments, or the generation we are in now where everyone gets a trophy just for breathing, I mean real, unselfish happiness for someone you love’s success. I think that’s why I loved him so much and why he meant so much to me. I was very happy about my Eagle Scout and what I had accomplished, yet I got bullied at school for being in the Scouts. But Chocolate never cared about any of that, he was proud of me despite what other people thought. He was proud of me for the things that really meant something. He would be proud of my character, of the things I learned, of my wisdom growing up. He didn’t care about the things other people cared about, he cared about me being Good.
When I made a lot of mistakes in my life, there was no one I was more dissapointed in letting down than Chocolate, because I knew he was the one who showed me the opposite of anything I did wrong. I knew he could see right through me, and he knew that I knew what was right and what was wrong, because he taught it to me. He loved me for all my faults, and I loved him for everything he gave to me. When I didn’t have a man to help me grow and learn what courage and leadership meant, he was there to show me the path. He gave me the sustenance to make my garden flourish. He never gave me too much to make it too easy, yet he also never left me out to dry. He was my light through every darkness, and when there was no one else, I always had Chocolate.
People don’t always get the flowers while they can still smell them. I wish I could have said all of these things to him when he was still alive, but alas, that’s not the way life always goes. What I really wanted to do with this blog post is give you all an insight into what I believe a Good man should really be. I haven’t always been the best man, but I know what a Good man is supposed to be like, and all I can do is try to live up to everything he taught me now.
Take the time today to tell someone you love how proud of them you are. Life is precious, and the memories we share with those we love are why we live. That sentiment, coming from those we care about, is always something good for all of us to be reminded of.