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Clarence Thomas' Memoir: "My Grandfather's Son"

Expository critical essays in literary, political, historical, philosophical, and spiritual topics remain part of my literary toolkit.

Justice Clarence Thomas


The book's title is a paradox. At first, it seems to be referring to Thomas' father, or perhaps to an uncle; after all, the son of one's grandfather is, in fact, one's father or uncle. But Thomas begins by narrating a little story about his biological father that reveals a different subject of the title. Far more than just a clever turn of phrase, the title remains an accurate claim that the justice and his brother both came to recognize and appreciate.


In the preface to Justice Clarence Thomas' memoir, My Grandfather's Son, the justice describes the book, "It is the story of an ordinary man to whom extraordinary things happened."

First Met Biological Father at Age Nine

Clarence Thomas was nine years when he met his father, M. C. Thomas, for the first time. Clarence's mother had divorced "C," as he was called, in 1950, and C then relocated from Pinpoint, Georgia, to Philadelphia. Clarence and his brother, Myers, were living with their mother's parents, and one day unexpectedly, the mother called to tell them that someone was at her apartment and wanted to meet them.

They summoned a cab that took them to their mother's housing-project apartment. C was there and announced, "I am your daddy." Clarence describes his father's demeanor, as he made that announcement: "he told us in a firm, shameless voice that carried no hint of remorse for his inexplicable absence from our lives." The man did not tell them that he loved them or that he missed them.

His father did treat them politely and even promised to send them "a pair of Elgin watches with flexible bands that were popular at the time." They watched the mail day after day, and after a year had passed without the watches or further word from their father, their grandparents bought the watches for the boys.

Clarence writes, "My father had broken the only promise he ever made to us." Clarence and his brother often found it hard to understand how "a man could show no interest in his own children." And the justice still wonders how that is possible.

Second Meeting with Father

Clarence saw his father a second time after his high school graduation, when C had come to visit his own father in Montgomery, a town near Pinpoint. Clarence felt that he owed him at least a visit, because C was his father; however, his brother, Myers, refused to see the man again. Clarence also appreciated the fact that his father had not interfered with his grandparents as they raised him and his brother.

Myers wanted nothing to do with his biological father and said, "the only father we had was our grandfather." Clarence admits that it may sound harsh, but Myers' evaluation of the situation was accurate; thus Clarence contends rightly in the paradox, "In every way that counts, I am my grandfather's son."

Tribute to Grandfather

Thomas' memoir is aptly titled. His grandfather, who stepped in to become the young Thomas boys' father, "was dark, strong, proud, and determined to mold me in his image."

Despite a rebellious period when he seemed to reject his grandfather's beliefs, Clarence still sought his approval, and his powerful force in Clarence's life is recognized by the justice as he declares in tribute, "He was the one hero in my life. What I am is what he made me."

Clarence Thomas Speaks at Hillsdale College's Commencement Ceremony

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes