Ben Tanzer

I Am Your Ancestor

When I was little he took me to the old Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles play and was always sure to remind me that few things were better, or more necessary, than drinking a cold beer at a baseball game. For years he did seven push-ups every morning and always insisted that no man should wake up and not pee first thing. It’s just how things are done. When I played cowboys and Indians with him he always suggested that the two sides make peace, something I never understood the utility of. All of that was a long time ago though. He is slower now and walks stiffly, with a slight limp. The skin on his neck is loose and hard to shave, and the spare coarse whiskers sprouting here and there would have never made an appearance in the old days. He’s skinny too, though his still-handsome mug is easy enough to see, especially if you knew him when he was younger and fuller and quick with a laugh. He was, is, always curious, contrarian, vibrant, and full of questions, hitting every topic from every angle, and never letting me settle for answers that didn’t, and don’t, explore the political implications of the situation. Because there is always a political implication, be they overt like the Clinton impeachment trial, or less so like union bashing in the guise of cost savings. For him, it was never about how I felt about things or even what they looked like. It was about action and interaction, intimacy and physicality. I suppose this has changed little as his hearing has faded, his eye sight has begun to falter and his heart, the biggest heart in the whole world, has started to fail him. And maybe all of that has something to do with his reaction to meeting my son, his great-grandson, for the first time, this lumpy ball of clay that can’t discuss politics or deplore the state of the world, much less go to Orioles games or play handball as we did for years in the playgrounds of Baltimore. Or maybe it’s something less complicated. He is old now, and he must wonder how much of himself he should share, and how much he ought to try when his time on earth is limited. Maybe not making any kind of personal connection is easier for everyone involved. So, despite how much he has to share, he is not sharing at all. Instead, he is wary, cautiously circling my son, and treating him as something fragile and foreign, and not able to engage, not now anyway. They look at each other, no interaction, no anything really, until with my mother’s prompting, the old man approaches the small, hairy blob in front of him and puts up his hand to high-five. My son looks at him quizzically at first, and then warily, but then smiling, he slaps hands with the old man, who smiles broadly himself, and says, “I am your ancestor.”


Ben Tanzer is the author of the books My Father’s House and So Different Now among others. Ben also oversees day to day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life, the center of his growing lifestyle empire.