I’ve out-lived my father. Isn’t that the saddest achievement?
My sons are wonderful men. But they missed out on him … and he missed out on them.
Bad timing. He was gone before they had a memory-card.
I know something for certain. A strange something.
Had he lived for a few more decades … like he was supposed to … he would’ve colored my sons in such special ways. In peculiar-beautiful ways … because he knew all about peculiar.
“Surely, two of the most satisfying experiences in life must be those of being a grandchild or a grandparent.”
Donald A. Norberg
He would have rounded out so many edges … and instilled all sorts of cool curiosities in them. And he would have shown me things I would never have noticed … about my own sons. I would’ve been a better father.
And now I’m the grandfather. The guy headed into his winter-time. And a new child just arrived … another grand-baby. A girl.
This girl-stuff is all pretty new to me. I come from the land of dirty cleats and lost jocks … where everyone spoke grunt … and the toilet lid was a backboard. This is gonna be a born-again moment, isn’t it?
I’ve gotta stop swearin’ so much. And give up lots of other stuff, too. I gotta do this right.
This is such a splendid assignment … like the one I wish my father had a shot at. A late-life swerve. A fascinating challenge to become who I should become … for this moment … and this girl-child.
So, here’s what’s on my mind.
By the age of ten I could cuff my pants, sew on buttons, and iron my own clothes. I knew how to run the laundry machines, fix the hairy roller-brush on the vacuum, and whittle balsa wood into a Roman sword without losing a finger.
I could make real-deal rice pudding, French toast, and home fried potatoes. I could paint with a roller, knew the steps to stain a piece of sanded wood … and I could repair a broken drawer with Elmer’s glue. And I knew what a single-wing offense was all about.
And that’s the short list.
My parents were my first teachers … but my grandparents were my survival guides. They taught me all those things. And more.
I was one of seven kids. Six boys … then a daughter. In a family that large … with a father who worked all the time … you learn the meaning of “hurry up and wait”.
I didn’t like to wait … and my grandparents knew it. So they taught me all sorts of stuff. Some practical … and some wise.
Then it became my turn to pass it all along.
My sons have allowed me to teach their sons and daughters … to stain a born-again piece of furniture, play chess, and re-nail a deck. To grip a football, paint a garage door, and write a proper essay.
I’ve taught them how to lose with grace … and win with even more grace. To play poker and bet wisely … and to beat a guitar. They know how to barbecue chicken wings, design a backyard focal point … and appreciate old stuff. Like me.
And that’s the really short list.
Grandparents are the hands-on experts. The story tellers. The explainers. The perfect play partners. They accept fantasy invitations without hesitation. And they’ll pretty much do as they’re asked … and like it.
“It’s funny what happens when you become a grandparent. You start to act all goofy and do things you never thought you’d do. It’s terrific.”
Mike Krzyzewski. Duke Basketball Coach
They’re the tradition keepers … and the kings and queens of idioms and metaphors. They tell luscious parables, lie sweetly, and exaggerate so as to encourage. They’re family historians … and the keepers of juicy secrets. They humanize parents … and find something good in everyone … and every thing.
“When she smiles, the lines in her face become epic narratives that trace the stories of generations that no book can replace.”
Curtis Tyrone Jones
They’re loaded with patience, blessed with calmness … and they expect mistakes. They smile for no reason at all … and look children straight in the eye when they speak. They’re not in any special hurry either. And they know how to spell.
They laugh a lot, too …
Grandparents are there to help a child get into mischief they haven’t thought of yet. They’re are big on dares. “Try this!” … “Taste this” … “Give this a whack”. They think kids should dabble in lots of stuff … ‘cause they wish they’d dabbled in lots of stuff long ago. They’ve learned from their mistakes.
“The first guitar I ever had was a gut-string Spanish guitar, and I couldn’t really get the hang of it … I talked my grandparents into buying it for me. I tried and tried and tried, but got nowhere with it…”
Eric Clapton … THE Eric Clapton
Grandparents listen. And nod. And nod some more. They prefer the voice of a child to their own. And they act very surprised … even if it’s the same bit of shock for the tenth time in the last hour. They learn to smile easily all over again. Kids teach them that.
“A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.”
Erma Bombeck, The Wit
They get excited over simple stuff, too … like furry bugs, and skinny flowers, and smooth rocks … because they can act. They teach kids how to look at clouds and lonely people. And how to listen to waves and thunder … and a gurgling stomach.
“The very old and the very young have something in common that makes it right that they should be left alone together. Dawn and sunset see stars shining in a blue sky; but morning and midday and afternoon do not, poor things.”
Grandparents grow a child’s language through nonsense rhymes and silly songs. They show children right from wrong … and that’s important. They confess, too … and honestly tell kids what they’re good at … and what they can’t do for beans. That’s good truth. It’s good to know who you are … and who you ain’t.
Grandparents pat kids at any moment … just for being in the moment. And kids notice that. Like they notice the candy bars grandparents leave behind … and the smuggled ice cream money.
All of those things talk to children. Not at the moment … but … in their alone moments. They think about stuff just like us. Believe me.
“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”
Alex Haley, author of “Roots”
Kids are just small people … with little junk in their lives. And grandparents are old people getting rid of life’s junk. That’s why they click.
“Grandchildren accept us for ourselves, without rebuke or effort to change us, as no one in our entire lives has ever done that.”
The last time I saw my grandfather was through the window-decals on the ambulance. He turned his blue eyes toward me … and managed a sad-weak smile. He waved … with two fingers stuck together … and I waved back the same way.
And then he disappeared around the corner.
It was the only time in my young life I ever saw his white hair mussed. I never saw him again.
I own his brush set. Sterling silver brushes … one for his white hair … the others for his clothes. That was the fashion … when he was in fashion.
Now he lives in my stories. But my sons have no such stories of their grandfather.
These grand-kids will.