The first thing I saw when I came into my cousin’s house was a picture of Uncle Iggy on his bike. It was a few years ago when I confirmed that Iggy indeed was a member of the United States Olympic team, competing in cycling in the 1924 Paris Games. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how true the story was. My grandmother had a tendency to exaggerate stories or create a narrative that best served her purpose in the way most family stories get passed from generation to generation. Most of the stories about Uncle Iggy featured tidbits about him driving a cab and women of ill repute rather than on his elite cycling career. I could spend days analyzing that one, but I digress.
Back to my cousin’s house and the Super Bowl party which served as a type of Gronkowksi family reunion, gathered to cheer on our distant cousin, Rob, the star tight end for the New England Patriots. Here’s the blood line: His great grandfather (Iggy) and my great grandfather (Frank) were brothers. Someone did the math and said that makes us fourth cousins. I’ve never met Rob or his family, but why let details get in the way of an opportunity to make fun of family members and eat cake?
The extended family gathering, which happens rarely these days, included stories and jokes and a good number of old photographs, among them one of my great grandfather, Frank Gronkowski, passed out drunk in the bathtub. Here lies the Gronkowski family tree. One line produced an Olympic cyclist and Super Bowl participant. I am begotten from, well, from a guy who spent more than one night passed out drunk in a bathtub. This notion struck me as so funny and entertaining, I posted it on Facebook immediately. The concept of lineage, however, stayed with me, following me into the pool for my morning workout. How important is that family line anyway? How much am I beholden to where my ancestors came from, to my family beliefs and actions?
I am sure there are aspects of my personality and approach to life that are so deeply rooted in ancestral traditions that I can’t even begin to dissect them. There are values which have served me well and life characteristics that I cherish. Then there are those tendencies I wish not to repeat. I say that without judgement, but with love, knowing that in some instances there is a better way for me to approach life. It’s more in the spirit of when you know better, you do better. And while some of those lessons are learned the hard way, they have been instrumental in helping me create the kind of life I want for myself. And I have to think somewhere I have grandparents and aunts and uncles who are smiling approval that I learned the lessons they missed out on.
I love the fact that somewhere on my family tree are people who have participated in the Olympics and the Super Bowl. And as I listened to the stories of my crazy family last night, I realized that when you focus on joy, you bring more of it into your life, regardless of what kind of man your great grandfather was.