Grandfathers

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My great-grandfather’s abandoned house on our family land in Virginia.

I grew up largely preferring my own company or the company of boys – girls were “fake,” “boring,” “drama queens.” For all the good times, my preference for male companionship also brought with it a lot of pain, abuse, and confusion. In the last several years, I have experienced a significant growth in my understanding and valuing of women’s circles, women’s health, and the importance of our collective support. Yet for all the reconnection I have come to with the women in my life and the presence and support I have of my grandmothers, I now realize the persistant absence of my grandfathers has become too important to ignore.

For many women, we often feel abandoned by the men who come into our lives, whether emotionally, physically, sexually, mentally, “spiritually.” And it doesn’t matter how we may accept or understand them, it doesn’t matter our efforts at unconditional love or our coping strategies, or whether or not we just plain give up and let “it” go. None of these things alone seems to resolve the core hurt, nor its replication, that is the sense of abandonment by our grandfathers (or, as the case may be, the abandonment our parents or ancestors experienced that we may not have ourselves, but that we are shown in our lives that they need us to help them heal).

We cannot do healing work of the (intergenerational) trauma within our female bodies or collectively as women’s circles without healing our male lines and our relationship to them. Failing to integrate the (multi-)gendered lines of our history and identity cuts off circulation to entire realms of our essential being. That’s part of the function of duality in nature (and the grey, overlapping spaces created at their boundaries): balance and mutuality. Overcompensating on one side for things the other sides exists to do and be, as I was unwittingly doing while trying to heal through reconnection with my feminine identity and circles, still leaves these other aspects of our suffering in cycle.

As women determined to reclaim our powerful selves, especially if we have survived sexual abuse, we need the healing and support from the men in our lives. And if our own grandfathers have done harm that has affected us, our lives are healing for them, their pain, and the suffering they created as well. This past week while in ceremony on the reservation, one of the biggest things that made itself known (quite painfully) in my heart was this question of why aren’t my grandfathers with me. Why don’t they come with the same love and support as my grandmothers have. How can I access my gifts and responsibilities from them. Where is their example and love and encouragement. How can I be this warrior without them. The strong sense of fear, anguish, and abandonment throughout my life, especially in my relationships to men, I see now largely lies there – in the absence of my grandfathers.

Many women’s movements have been coming to prioritize the supportive spaces of women’s circles and the wisdom of our grandmothers without, in my observation, substantively integrating the fact that we need our grandfathers just as much, to be complete human beings – to see life, the world, ourselves truly, clearly, deeply. Many of us have not been able to find a way to release the numbing grip of pain and sorrow that often generates anger or indifference toward men in our lives. Battling patriarchy is exhausting and often embittering (this is where you come in, Allied Woke-ass Men). We try to be “strong” and independent, often mistaking strength for rigidity and separation from our emotional experience. Yet in the end we are still in fact dying for men to be loving (and to learn what it is to be loving, ourselves).

I realize for myself how these persistent fears I have had around abandonment, rejection, lack of control, lack of understanding, appreciation, and validation – and my feeling as though I can never be or do or say enough to earn or deserve the things I long for – are rooted in my relationship to my grandfathers and the traumas and violations my mother and grandmothers often suffered from them. And, moreover, when this hurt has become attached to a single person or relationship at any given time in my own life, it becomes overwhelming in hopelessness and confusion once the relationship was lost. Because there is no control I can exert over the situation. There is no amount of rocks I could overturn, dissect, or study that would finally reveal to me what I was missing all along. No sense I could make over why I could be suffering so profoundly over a single person. It’s because it’s never been about the person or the relationship; it’s been about my ancestors and generations of core relationships that have been marked by grief, shame, and hurt that have come to impact the way I see and feel about myself. I see in clear retrospect the long history of particular patterns in my relationships and interactions with men, and their behavior toward me (that’s you all’s work, ‘kay), that reflect the unresolved traumas I still carry in my own womb and from the wombs of my grandmothers – and the wombs of our entire communities for 500 years and more.

As human beings, all we want is to give and receive love, care, and appreciation – to see the fruits of our efforts in the world and in our relationships with others at all physically, intellectual, emotional, and intergenerational levels. We want reciprocity and communion. As a species, we embody curiosity about, and crave understanding of human and non-human. That is the core of the scientific and philosophical impulse that has given us our stories and our traditional and modern knowledge systems, the core of our biological drive toward creating love and achieving “immortality” through the exchange and passing on of our DNA. The exchange, reworking, co-creating, evolution, transformation of information. That is the essence of our human lives and every interaction we take up, and it isn’t linear but cyclical. It is only sensible, then, that we should look to our relationship to our ancestors in order to understand and fully live out greater relationships and exchanges, to set off a new cycle of growth, change, and evolution. This is part of our work for ourselves, for our grandmothers, and definitely for our grandfathers.

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