My grandfather, Ralph, on the right of this picture, was the kindest, most loving, most generous man I have ever known. He was strong and confident and achieved so much in his life as a Royal Air Force physical training instructor and, later, as a coach to the British and Jamaican wheelchair basketball teams. He coached them to success in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games and garnered respect from the sporting world. He also received a British Empire Medal for service to sport.
Whilst I am obviously tremendously proud of his professional success and love telling his stories, my pride and gratitude comes mostly from the kind of man he was and the things he taught me. He showered us with endless, unconditional love and, right up until he passed away, on September 18th last year, he was affectionate, tender, witty and kind. He loved his family above all else.
I’ll never forget how blessed I was to have his influence in my life for so long.
Tonight, I have been thinking about him partly because I have been listening to a lot of rhetoric about the U.S. election and about Donald Trump. It may seem like a strange link, but allow me to explain. Discussions about men and women, sexuality, values, power and education are rife, along with allegations of sexual assault and the uncovering of male views that are entitled and misogynistic.
It is a time of soul searching, not just for Americans but for everyone.
I have also been watching the way that Barack Obama has had to accept the results of the election and make speeches with the future of the country in mind.
It takes a tremendously strong man to be classy, calm and gracious in difficult circumstances.
I saw my grandad exhibit these characteristics throughout his life and, whilst on the surface non-reaction may look like weakness, it takes courage and wisdom to know when to bite your tongue and take the higher ground.
It is easy to lash out in anger. To resort to name-calling, bitterness and hatred.
It is much harder to remain still, to allow nastiness to come your way without rising to it.
The older I get, the more deeply I realise that true strength is silence. Calmness. Grace. Kindness. Tenderness. Humour. Patience. Acceptance. Gratitude. Love.
My grandad embodied all of those qualities, and I was so lucky to have his love and guidance until I was almost thirty years old.
On a public level, when I see classy, gracious men such as Barack Obama, it makes my heart glad.
We need as many positive role models in the world for our children as possible.
The young boys and girls that I teach need to know that they are valued and worthy, and that they deserve to be treated with respect. They need to know that a loud voice isn’t necessarily a wise voice. And that standing up for yourself isn’t about hitting back harder.
Wherever you are, try to be that example.
As Maya Angelou said, “Each of us, famous or infamous, is a role model for somebody, and if we aren’t, we should behave as though we are–cheerful, kind, loving, courteous. Because you can be sure someone is watching and taking deliberate and diligent notes.”