Gratitude before the Nitty Gritty
Before I dive into this blog series, there are several points I should clearly make. While my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood were emotionally challenging and mentally exhausting – surely something not unique to me – I am grateful to have been reared by two parents devoted to my safety and well-being. We were neither poor nor rich. I always had multiple gifts on Christmas and my birthday – I always knew for sure my next meal would be served. I was no perfect child; I was bossy, some would argue spoiled, others would say assert self-centered.
When I overstepped my childhood boundaries I was reprimanded. I received a weekly allowance. I got my driver’s license two days after my 16th birthday – which sounds unremarkable, yet many an adolescent awaited delivery of promises from fathers to teach them how to drive that were never kept. I went to prom – albeit with a nice girl unknowingly doubling as my (unpaid) beard. Going to college was always pitched to me as an absolute, even though neither of my parents experienced this increasingly necessary American rite of passage.
My Family’s Accountability Woes
This blog series chronicles how my family has and continues not holding shysters, dream killers, and joy extinguishers accountable for their actions at the expense of those of us who follow the Golden Rule. Airing our dirty laundry is my prerogative as offended relatives’ hurling any blowback towards me is theirs. Changing their behavior is the last thing I am trying to achieve here; I have absolutely no control over such a thing. You can’t tell grown folks what to do is an oft stated idiom that comes to mind. Yet, you can if you ask or volun-tell the audience in just the right way.
Part of the goal with this blog series is to impart knowledge or reminders on how one’s behavior affects another. Through that, the individual will change his or her own behavior. Of course, this approach only works on people capable of self-reflection – those that are not incredibly stubborn, sociopaths, or narcissists. If nothing else, after verbally spanking the family problems-causers with words of accountability they can never truthfully say they did not know their actions, words, or choices negatively affect another relative.
I often quote a mentor of mine who says in her Louisiana accent, “you have to teach people how to treat you.” The elders of my family, in large part, did not teach a select number of my generational peers how to treat others. They made excuses for them – rationalizing the irrational. My grandparents and their children (my parents, aunts and uncles) who expected my generation and I to respect them – rightfully so – did not return the favor in holding us to varying levels of accountability standards.
But Keith, child rearing must be equitable not equal. I know that, equitable child rearing also requires measurable and effective levels of accountability. But Keith, you do not have any children. Where the hell do you get off criticizing your parents, aunts, and uncles who helped create the life you have today? They did the best they could, and you are not perfect! Well, I criticize them because:
- I can, my free will allows me to do so.
- Their raising me does not mean they are above reproach.
- I do not need to have children to call a thing a thing.
- Just because they are older than I am does not mean they are always right – a dead-on-arrival comeback an aunt made to me once.
- Their actions or the lack thereof have created a lot of unnecessary strife in my life while they now have selective amnesia about their roles in doing so.
Tangential Note: Equity and equality are two strategies we can use in an effort to produce fairness. Equity is giving everyone what they need to be successful. Equality is treating everyone the same. Equality aims to promote fairness, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same help. – Everyday Feminism
Again, we all make mistakes – which is not to be confused with willfully and repeatedly extorting, manipulating, and disrespecting people because the perps know they will get away with it. Those two scenarios are clearly different from one another. Try telling that to the power brokers in my family who like to utter “yall need to quit arguing” or “ain’t none of yall perfect, so quit fussing,” when one of the favorite children, nieces, or nephews clearly is the antagonist. No one is ever held accountable by name, it is always in the form of an inclusive, plural pronoun.
The goal in sloppily using names-substitutes – they, yall, both of them, children these days, young folks, and the like – is to protect the feelings and fragile egos of the favorites at the expense of those who quietly yet frustratingly go along to keep the peace. Yet, this is not the most frustrating part. The real kicker are instances of my family’s matriarchs, patriarchs and others who are selectively opinionated hollin like wolves baying at the moon to me and any other non-favorite relatives about the woes of cleaning up messes willfully and unapologetically created by the family favorites – destructive behavior they enable. Why are you bitching and moaning to me? Go tell them, is an agreed-upon response developed by me and other non-favorites.
As with any other family, American or otherwise, we all have our readily identifiable favorites, shit-starters, attention-dominators, amateur comedians, train wrecks, those living in glasshouses, entrepreneurs, black sheep, overachievers, and bookworms.
This blog, Blood is Thicker than Accountability is more so about the favorites, attention-dominators, and train wrecks. I will, however, provide a glimpse into some of the others. Neither side of my family had a monopoly on the abovementioned trio. You know who they are in your family. Here are three examples of how such people have shown up in mine.
He is the cousin who answers questions you never asked about his 50-leventh career trajectory change – cornering you at the family BBQ while other non-favorite relatives scatter like roaches fleeing a recently flicked on light. Once told to “stop telling so many damn lies” by one of my no-nonsense makeshift brothers, this cousin reduced (not stopped) terrorizing us with his terribly transparent fables. This same cousin I would assume has an embarrassingly low credit score – like in the upper 500s, constantly seeking loan co-borrowers which he always found among the ranks of my dad and our shared aunts and uncles. After two decades of doing this, my father once let it slip, “I’m sick of this boy.” Mind you my dad said it to me, not to my generation’s grifter.
She is the other cousin who begs for money to buy cigarettes or put gas in her car on social media. “Well, her mom-n-daddy crazy, so what do you expect,” is what I was told by dad who saw the same foolishness in his Facebook newsfeed. She is the sibling who calls her mom on Mother’s Day in a jealous rage because said mother got nice flowers in a pretty vase from ProFlowers and she did not. He is the cousin who turns around and drops his shorts right before the camera snaps a family photo.
She is our generation’s shut-in – not to be confused with the sick-n-shut-in on the prayer list of any black church in these United States – who types a Facebook post turned PhD dissertation about how no one loves her or “they do more for the others than me.” Who are they? Oh, she is referring to my dad and his siblings who enable the family favorites – siblings which includes her mother. The others? Is she referring to those of us who get up every day and go to work to provide for ourselves? This same shut-in is over 40 and still lives at home. What she does not post is the fact she has the personality of a sloth. How about she gets off Facebook and onto Indeed.com and apartmentfinder.com?
The Train Wrecks
He is the hilarious yet bewildering uncle who has a breathalyzer as his car’s ignition – not push-button start like most of us. Yes, I will go-on. Instead of calling a sober relative or friend to drive him home after a night of partying and drinking in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs, the black sheep of our family’s baby-boomer generation decides to stick it to the man by intentionally and intoxicatingly breathing into a state-issued breathalyzer. This “accessory” was not part of an upgraded trim level package including a sunroof and leather seats, yet the result of a preceding DUI citation. His car will only start if his breath reads below 0.08 alcohol content.
Given Georgia’s Zero Tolerance against drunk driving, I am surprise they gave him this warning shot and not a one-way ticket to the big house. Not to heed teachable moments, the uncle took a deep breath and exhaled into violating his parole. As a result, he spends or has spent weekends in a Gwinnett County jail. In this instance, the uncle was held accountable by the State of Georgia yet excused by family as just being himself. Some relatives continue to lend him their cars.
These are true stories – Keith A. Vensey
There is More Accountability-free Kinfolk
Other examples of accountability-free relatives include those who are always passive aggressive in what they do and say. “I don’t know black folks who dress like that,” one would quip. My response to this aunt, “…well you need to befriend different kinds of black people.” They seize any opportunity to project their insecurities onto others. “You say the universe, I say God because I believe in him,” screamed my sister once as I held her feet to the fire regarding her stank attitude. Not to be outdone, I replied, “Did God tell you to treat your mother like shit, shake her down financially every opportunity you get, and imply I’m going to hell?” An exorcist type of response from my sister followed.
They are the relatives who volunteer to do a beer, snack, or BBQ-supplies run to the store – the person to whom you give money to purchase things – only to return with the merchandise and questions about whether you want your change. Hell yes, I want my change! It could be 57¢ – all in sticky pennies – I want it, give it to me! Volunteering to “run-to-da-sto” does not come with gratuity.
They are the ones who clumsily tries to secretly take one of your beers, bottled waters, sodas, insert-a-chilled-beverage from the cooler during family functions – something problematic because they neither asked you for it nor brought anything to the gathering other than their greedy gut. They are the uncles or cousins who owe you AND several other relatives $20 or more – becoming irate when you ask to be repaid. They are the ones showing-up at family dinners with nary a dish nor donation in tow yet toting off plates. But, “they family” as the enablers would say.
Solutions? Not yet, There’s More
Accountability is a major tenet I hold dear. In this blog, I am not acting as if I am mistakes-free or do not experience bouts of grudgingly take responsibility for things. I do take responsibility for my actions and poor judgement calls – while the favorites, attention dominators, and train wrecks seldom do. Somehow, they still receive an unlimited supply of the benefit of the doubt. I recently learned there are other cousins, more like siblings – Ashley, Deltron, and Shanae – who share my sentiments. There are three other cousins I would put in this category too – yet I have not gotten permission to use their real names in my blogs. Seven people may not seem like a minority. For sure it does in an extended family of roughly 200 people that functions more like a nuclear one.
This story continues with Blood is Thicker than Accountability – Quiet Parts Said Aloud. I discuss some of the reasons I focus on specific relatives over others and typical rebuttals I have heard over the years to any inkling of an iota of advancing accountability in our family.
I am committed to a person who loves me for who I am. He and I have two dogs. Cascadia is home for us. I know for sure no one makes it alone; bootstrapping is a cliched dog whistle. I surround myself with truth tellers. I am healthy and grateful for what I have (on most days). I wholeheartedly believe reading gives us super powers. Vote. Exercise. Eat Healthily. Sleep Soundly.