I never knew my paternal grandfather, he died seven years before I was born. As a matter of fact, my Mum never met him either, as my parents started dating a couple of years after he died.
Throughout my childhood, he was totally absent. Physically, of course but also symbolically. Neither my Dad nor my uncles ever talked about him. Even my grandmother barely mentioned him a couple of times a year at most, and always in passing, as a background detail. She may have shown me a picture of him once but I’m not even sure about that, and I don’t remember what he looked like.
My grandmother died 4 years ago and, in the last years of her life, I started trying to “plug the holes” in my knowledge of the family’s history. I never asked her directly about my grandfather, but through my uncles, I learned that he wasn’t exactly remembered fondly. It turns out that he was an alcoholic and that my grandmother’s feelings when he passed away unexpectedly can be summed up as “relief”. To my surprise, I also learned that my father’s relationship with him was openly hostile. That was a bit of a shock as my father isn’t the type to hate anyone. Get angry ? Yes. Hold a grudge ? Sure. But hate ? Nope.
But the more I thought about it the more I started feeling inclined to play the Devil’s advocate. I mean, he wasn’t there to justify himself anymore. What would he have said if he’d been here ? What sort of guy was he, really ? Sure, such a consensus against him speaks volumes, but what if he had been misunderstood ? And even if he was as bad as described, was he fundamentally bad or are there some mitigating circumstances that explain what he became ?
Of course, this led me to think about myself. When I look back on my life, I realize I made a lot of poor choices and that, being emotionally a bit aloof, I may not be the easiest person to live with. But deep down, I really don’t feel that I’m an evil person. Distant and both a bit lackadaisical and rigid, but not evil. Yet, if I died today, would I be remembered as my grandfather was ? And what about you ?
That’s almost like a sick plot twist : after all the red herrings, it turns out that YOU were the bad guy all along.