Friday, May 27, 2005

No thanks

I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t do any drugs and I don’t smoke. At all. I never have, and it’s completely normal to me, but it seems to bother a lot of people.

I’m asked several times a week why I don’t, and every time I have a different reason… there are in fact many reasons. But I think I’ve figured out what the main one is.

Growing up, my primary male role-model was my maternal grandfather. He used to pick me up from school and I would spend every afternoon with him before going home with my mom. My father was at home, but he’s always been emotionally distant, and to this day we don’t get along very well.

My grandfather was a genuinely good man. As a boy he was a Scout, and then became a book-keeper. He served as an adjutant at the rank of Captain in WWII as an officer of the Transvaal Scottish Regiment… they were involved in the North-African campaigns where my grandfather lost many friends in the battles of Cartoum and Sidi Rezegh.

He returned from the war to his wife and the two small children he barely knew. Although he wasn’t a rich man, he made sure his family was cared for and comfortable. Even when his son went into political exile he never lost his cool. I don’t recall ever hearing my grandfather raise his voice.

He was endlessly longsufferring... one of my now fondest memories of him comes from my early childhood. I had a tricycle that I would ride around as little kids do. However, i was forbidden from riding it in the kitchen as the tyres would leave black streaks on the linolium floor. That didn't stop me, since the smooth floor was the best place to ride... nice and smooth. Every time I did it, my grandfather would warn me beforehand not to, then when I did it he would calmly and quietly instruct me to go outside, then he would go down on his hands and knees with some or other solvent and remove every black streak. We went through this ritual just about every day, but he never got angry.

Although I obviously didn’t know him as a young man, the grandfather I knew was a clean-living man. He was an active participant in the church his family helped to build, he never cursed, drank or smoked. His only vice was the fried eggs and bacon he had every morning… only upon reaching his mid-eighties was he warned by his doctor to watch his cholesterol, and he went on to see his 92nd birthday.

My grandfather was a responsible, proud, strong, dutiful, pleasant, intelligent, peaceful and thoughtful man. When I think of what it means to be a man it’s he that I think of.

I think it’s from him that I inherited my lack of desire to indulge in mind-altering substances. He didn’t need them, so neither do I. I hope that when I reach 92, I’ll be as well liked and respected as he still is.