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Wisdom from the Elder

Jun 7, 2021

Wisdom from the Elder

Views expressed in these articles are the opinions of the author and
do not necessarily reflect the views of The MFGgear Column.

by John Gardner 

Family life can sometimes feel like you’re taking a submarine beyond its collapse depth.  In “A Lot Like Me” Larry Elder masterfully limns the tools for family life in the same way civilizations have passed on the gnosis they intend to survive the test of time, storytelling.

“Storytelling is the oldest form of teaching. Stories define us, shape us, control us, and make us. Not every human culture in the world is literate, but every single culture tells stories” more
Larry covers a story American history oft neglects, the forgiveness and love given to a paralyzed George Wallace when he visits Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1978. It depicts a healing moment for our nation, and reading “A Lot Like Me” is a healing moment for our families. pg 255/256
Ancient Greece was a paradigm our Founding Fathers built America around more; and the “oikos” or “family” was the key unit of Greek civilization. more James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, described family as “the true origin of society” and sociologists describe family as the single most important influence in a child’s life.
My wife and I often discuss in mutual shock, that society does not engage in more discussion about what will be the biggest decision of your life and that is the decision to create human life.  We decided NOT to have children, but in a short week of indecision, fate declared its will, and now we have a daughter that is the joy in my life. However, no one gave me a guide on how to be a patriarch and I never wanted the responsibility of a family.  As I’ve adapted to a life I once thought I didn’t want, reading the timeless wisdom in Larry Elder’s book “A Lot Like Me” has made me a better dad, husband and man.

“I hated my father – really, really hated him.” pg 3 “When Dad walked through the front door, he was usually scowling – a massive dark, hulk.”

“The louder we hollered, the harder he swung. Our welts were visible for days.” pg 4

Reading this I felt a sickening terror in the pit my stomach that I had unconsciously swore I’d never feel again.

“Dad came home angry, sat down angry, ate dinner angry, and watched television angry.”pg 224

I knew this energy, but it was from my mother.

“-normal was intimidation. Normal was tense. Normal was not knowing whether you would say something that would set him off. Normal was hate.” pg 6

By page 5 I hated Larry’s father too and was giddy with anticipation for the showdown on page 63 between the bullied and the bully when Larry confronts his father after they haven’t spoken in 10 years. Larry lays into his dad telling him everything he ever wanted to say.

His father’s response:
Randolph- “I promised myself when I had kids I was not going to treat them like my daddy did me.”
Larry- “And do you think you treated us better than your father did?”
Randolph- “I know I did.”
And he did. I grew to love Randolph the more I read, especially his sayings, insights and moral code.
The book created a portal for me to see how my daughter would perceive the toxic anger I hold in myself that seeps out around the edges.
My wife almost left me when she was 8 months pregnant because I worked 20 hours a day 7 days a week. For years I lashed out when confronted with how I was constantly angry and irritated. I called it driven. I’d be damned if I’d let them take my anger away. Don’t they know anger drives you, makes you tough? Don’t they know it’s how I pay our bills? That it’s what fuels me everyday to take the beatings life gives and get back up for more?
I didn’t complete high school and I wouldn’t have risen from sleeping in my car and then a garage, to being the only white busboy on Sunset Blvd in 1998, to owning my own business and eventually living a block from the beach in Laguna Beach without the anger, which had been my fuel. I loved my anger.
But as I read “A Lot Like Me” I saw through the lens of Larry and Randolph, the toll that anger takes on those around you and then the happiness as Larry heals and unites his family. First bringing his mother and father together in laughter and understanding, then his brother Kirk and his father. I saw a glimmer of light for my own angry soul. What if I could do everything I’m doing without the sweet rage that had been my closest companion for so long? What if I could be happy and allow myself to enjoy those moments of life I had worked so hard to create? And how would that change in myself, affect those I love?
Randolph Elder said, “Ain’t how long you live. It’s what you did with it.”
It was with this new awareness, that I realized I wanted to love and be loved by my family without the weight of my anger. This is what “A Lot Like Me” did for me. It is a generational guide to family life and if society truly wanted to prepare kids for life and save them from large therapy bills, “A Lot Like Me” would be required reading before high school.
Larry Elder is now America’s Patriarch, and if we adhere to the wisdom in his family memoir, the future that strong families usher in will fulfill the dream that is America.

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