Thank God for the Patriarchy and Pocket Knives

"You say 'Patriarchy' like it's a bad thing," I said. "It is," he replied. "The age of Toxic Masculinity has come to an end."

"Indicting masculinity because toxic males exist is like blaming pollution on oxygen."

"I don't know what that means."

"Then ask your Dad."

I am exploring the mental database of distant memories to find one of the most enduring images from my childhood. The setting is Thanksgivings at my grandparents' house. Mom, the oldest of the five siblings, has three sisters and a baby brother. They are all there, Mom, Linda, and Nelda with their respective husbands and kids, Dollie, somewhere in her late teens, and Troy, my uncle but only three years my senior, and maybe a stray or two from the church where my grandfather pastors.

The church, in fact, shares a chain link fence with the parsonage where we gather. It has a wing we built with our own hands, granddad and the men (and boys) of the congregation. That wing contains classrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen. The Thanksgiving Day cooking sometimes spills over into the church's kitchen when things get tight in Granky's tiny space.

"Granky" is my grandmother, a beautiful, stately, silly soul who loves her family and loves to laugh and play with the children. Her rolls have no known, written recipe. The knowledge to bake them to absolute perfection is assumed by all to have been directly imparted to her by a heavenly messenger. Maybe Gabriel or Michael. Not sure which. Her cinnamon rolls...

I'm sorry. I got lost for a second.

I can hardly think straight when I remember what it was like to cut into one of those innocent-looking things and the butter and cinnamon runs out onto the plate for sopping. The bottom is a little crunchy. (Give me a minute to gather myself here.)

If the rolls were God's gift to our family, the cinnamon rolls, for all of the sugar in them and the pounds they put on us, may have been from a less benevolent source. But if eating cinnamon rolls is a sin, I am just going to need more grace, that's all.


While Granky and her girls are buzzing about the kitchen, preparing the feast, my uncles, cousins, and I are either outside playing the annual game of touch football to get our minds right for the Dallas Cowboys traditional Thanksgiving Day game later that afternoon. Or we are in the church's rec room, destroying one another in the most vicious ping-pong contests Mineral Wells, Texas has ever witnessed.


W.A. Henager

The patriarch with the pocket knife

At some point, I will head inside - maybe to sneak an early bite of dessert or get a glass of sweet tea - and there will be one of the iconic sights of my childhood. Granddad is dressed in his white dress shirt, tie, and slacks (his default attire of choice for every occasion from baptizing new converts to mowing the church lawn). He wears a white chef's apron over the shirt and tie to mitigate loss due to spills or splashes in the kitchen. He is sitting at the dining room table or maybe in a living room chair, his Old-Timer pocket knife in hand, either cracking pecans for Granky and the girls to use in their desserts or peeling an apple. He can open a pecan or peel an apple with that single-blade pocket knife with the precision of a surgeon wielding a scalpel.

I love to see him doing this. If I sit with him a spell, it will be one pecan for the girls' baking and one for him and me. Or, he will carve a slice off that apple and split it between us. Granddad doesn't play football or ping pong. But he will hurt some feelings and destroy some opponents in the dominoes game called 42 later. He's mostly no-nonsense. He's tough as boot leather. He's as godly as any man you could hope to pure of heart as the driven passionate about Jesus and righteousness (as he understands it) as 100 popes. But he will laugh, too, and it always feels good to hear him do that.


I think about him more in his absence than I ever did when he was with us. I think about the patriarch of our tribe and the way he would plow, plant, and tend a garden, the bounty of which he would share with family, friends, church members, and especially widows on meager incomes. I think about how the only apparel I can remember him wearing other than his white dress shirt-and-tie ensemble is the blue Polyester work shirt with the name patch over the left breast and matching pants that comprised the uniform of my Dad's auto repair business. Granddad would don those clothes on occasion and jump in where needed when Dad was overrun with customers and deadlines. I think about him under the Oak tree, enjoying the company of fellow pastors at Summer Youth Camps, or loading up the church bus to take us to a "revival" meeting in some windblown, time-forgotten Texas town.


Granddad with the boys

We were a blessed bunch, whether we knew it or not.

He loved preachers and good preaching.

I think about that pocket knife and the untold uses he found for it. Sure, he could strip a pecan naked and peel an apple better than any contraption made for that purpose then or now. But, he did way more than that. He trimmed his fingernails, dug out splinters, cleaned his false teeth, stripped electrical wires, sharpened pencils, cut string or rope to many uses that wonderful man found for a simple blade.


While the world clamors to snuff the Patriarchy, while they bemoan the role of men in society and in history, while they effort to blend and bend genders - and blur lines, I stand firm in the belief that any family benefits from the presence and influence of a real man - a man of strength and tender love, a man of steadfast conviction and empathetic compassion, a man who will furiously fight against any influence or power that threatens those he loves, a man as comfortable on his knees in prayer as he is on his feet, a man - a sure-enough hard-fisted, rough-handed, tender-hearted man - shouldering the burden of a family's wellbeing.

It is Sunday, the Lord's Day, My Granddad's favorite day of the week. Thanksgiving, my favorite national holiday, is just four days hence. And I am thankful. I am thankful for more than I have the ability to express. Among the treasures I treasure, among the things for which I am most thankful...

I thank God for the Patriarch of our family...and his pocket knife.

[A special thanks to Deidra Hunt for sharing the above ditty in a Facebook post and the resulting conversation that prompted this trip down memory lane and became the inspiration for this article.]