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Advice & More July 2018

Old Granddad

By Bill Levine

Sure, babysitting assures that your grandchildren will address you as “gramps,” “papa” or “grandpa” instead of “who are you.” But this practice could take away time otherwise devoted to building birdhouses, or collecting both Bigfoot and carbon footprints.

One of my least favorite bumper stickers is ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDKIDS for a couple of reasons: First it is a presumptuous request. OK, I suppose if the driver’s grandchildren graduated Harvard as 12 and 14 year olds, or better yet have appeared on “Master Chef-Junior” the sticker is appropriate. Otherwise I’d rather see ASK ME ABOUT SELLING STOCKS SHORT.

Reason number 2 is that if I had the chutzpah to slap on the ASK ME ABOUT MY GRANDCHILDREN bumper sticker, my awkward answer would be when someone asked: “Yeah I know that I look old enough to have grandchildren, I have thinning hair, a well-hidden but significant hearing aid, and wrinkles that scream out “collecting Social Security.” I am 66, but in fact I DO NOT YET HAVE GRANDCHILDEN so stop asking me”

I was an old dad, being 40 and 43 when my boys Craig and Matt were born. My classmates who are grandads have kids 8 to 12 years older than mine. Thus my non-granddad status. I don’t think that as a non-granddad that I am missing a life affirmation as I did when my wife and I were childless. But right now we can only spoil our dog Cookie. It would be nice to have that three-generational presence in my life so our gifts wouldn’t be chewed up.

I miss the existential calm of knowing I will have a lengthening family tree branch. I tend to lessen my grandparenting envy by imagining the pitfalls of grandparenthood. Take babysitting for instance. Grandparenting babysitting is great for retirees who have from 10 to “enough already” free hours weekly.

Sure, babysitting assures that your grandchildren will address you as “gramps,” “papa” or “grandpa” instead of “who are you.” But this practice could take away time otherwise devoted to building birdhouses, or collecting both Bigfoot and carbon footprints. Grandparents can satisfy their wanderlust by just taking the grandkids along on cruises. A couple of Disney cruise heads- up though: Don’t book character tables for all breakfasts as Goofy will eventually be unnerving, and don’t buy your grandkids the “all the soda you can drink“ package.

I’ll deal with these pitfalls – real or imagined –  and hopefully be a meaningful granddad, not just a patriarch on the family treetop. Right now, conventional wisdom, at least on TV, is that meaningful grandfathering is active, touch football playing grandfathering. I am impressed by my friends who are engaged in frolicking grandparenting like in the Celebrex ads. One friend mentioned that he went trick or treating with his grandchildren in full costume. Other friends treat their kids and grandkids to a weekend at an indoor all-inclusive waterpark resort in mid-winter. As a sucker for indoor pools and fake Hawaiian décor, this three-generational splash-in is appealing rather than claustrophobic.

I fear though I will be too old to do hands-on, active, three-generational events with my grandchildren. I can envision that my go-to intergenerational activity will be hosting family sit-down dinners in my senior living quarters dining room. Hopefully my grandkids will enjoy salt-free foods. This was my dad’s standard grandparenting event once he moved into Hebrew Senior Life when my kids were 12 and 9.

I do hope though that I can better Dad and have the wherewithal to orchestrate active family events. I would like to babysit my potential grandchildren, provided I don’t need my own sitter. Yet I understand that hands-on grandparenting is not the only scheme in the grandparenting playbook. My dad showed me this.

Though my dad,  because of his age, did not engage in immersive, hands-on grandparenting, he demonstrated that you are never too late to do meaningful grandparenting, My nephew mentioned to his grandfather (my dad) that at age 20 he wanted a bar mitzvah. My dad at age 94, took this request and ran with it. Several months later in the function room of dad’s Hebrew Senior Life complex, my nephew was called to a portable Torah in front of 80 or so guests. Due to his age, dad delegated many of the tasks, but he footed the bill and was the impetus for this event. He sat in his wheelchair and took in a perfect grandfatherly moment. He died about 6 months later, leaving a wonderful grandfatherly legacy. I know all his 4 grandchildren were touched by this unique event.

I hope I can ,if lucky enough to achieve grandfatherhood, proudly affix this bumper sticker: ASK ME ABOUT OLDER GRANDPARENTING, to either my car or my walker.


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