I recently had a heart-to-heart conversation with my youngest offspring — my 25-year-old man-child Jared who wanted to know more about his biological grandfather, my father, who died when I was 25 — years before I married and began to raise a family.
As our chat occurred just a few days before Father’s Day, I decided to share my dad’s favorite saying: “You Eat the Elephant One Bite at a Time.”
My father was born and raised on a farm in rural Alabama and never had the kinds of options that I have been provided especially in regards to educational opportunities or economic sustenance. In fact, he often described himself as a simple country man. But I saw him in a far different light. He was like Superman to me, leaping hurdles at a single bound … and all that.
No matter what challenges I faced, he always encouraged me and told me that I could and would overcome the hurdles before me, as long as I remembered that no matter how large or overwhelming the problem, it could be tackled as long as I “ate the elephant one bite at a time.”
I’ve never forgotten those words of wisdom and consider their validity often when situations arise that seem all but impossible for me to resolve. We know how large an elephant can be and as a Black man in America, I have been confronted with many challenges that appeared impossible to overcome. Then, I remind myself of my Daddy’s words — how we can reduce the size of the elephant and therefore make it something we can conquer simply by taking things one step at a time — chewing away at the mountain one bite after another until it’s little more than a molehill.
Amazingly and before you know it, the elephant that loomed so large above you has been reduced to a minute hindrance. I was fortunate to have a father who was always present in my life, who taught me the essentials of manhood and who, most important, made me feel like I was safe because he was always there, just a stone’s throw away.
Some tell me that I was lucky or blessed to grow up in a two-parent home that was full of love and support. I suppose they’re right. Still, I can remember other men (and women) who during my formative years also served as surrogate mothers and fathers, teaching by example the best ways to confront and overcome the obstacles that I’d inevitably encounter as a young Black boy in a country that had little use for me and even fewer expectations for our futures.
So, I shared my father’s mantra with my son so he could understand me and why he should never allow ourselves to become distracted by the enormity of the struggle or the complexity of the situation. Rather, we need only do our best, utilize the full scope of our abilities and remember that even elephants can be easily and efficiently consumed, as long as we do so “one bite at a time.”
What elephant stands in your way? And what are you going to do about it?