I had a golden childhood in several respects. But one reason in particular was having both sets of grand parents until I was thirty. I know of very few others who can claim speed dial to that kind of wisdom for so long.
My grandfathers were vastly different men in both personality and accomplishments. My paternal grandfather served in WWII on the USS Alvin C Cockrell, worked in a plant making speedboats, and lived a very reserved existence. My other grandfather was his polar opposite, which might explain why they weren’t very close. With a meager elementary education, fifth grade at best, he was arguably the wealthiest man on Yellow Creek, sought after far and wide for his hunting expertise, and quick to tell any number of hunting or horse stories. For comparison, if you’re southern and lived in the 60′s and 70’s, think Jerry Clower.
Like most grandkids, I never truly appreciated their presence or perspective until they were gone. Nonetheless, I did possess just enough humility to accumulate a few nuggets of wisdom before I was completely convinced I knew everything. And for that I’ll be forever grateful.
Even approaching middle age I still idolize both of them, especially my mom’s dad who I called Gocky, as wise sages who could do no wrong; men of impeccable character, full of knowledge with the patience of Job. It makes me wonder if they were always so patriarchal.
Based on things I’ve heard my mom and aunt say, probably not.
Maybe this was discussed on a day I skipped class, but why does it seem men make better grandfathers than fathers? Why could a man he dishonorably discharged from fatherhood yet find a way to earn the Medal of Honor for being the above and beyond granddad? I’m old enough to experience this first hand. I’ve known men who completely checked out in the dad department letting mom handle the duties and chasing too many shiny objects, then ending up being the subject of their kids’ therapy sessions for years; only to turn around and become the grandfather every kid wishes she had.
My father had very little patience with me. As a man who did everything with perfection he found it difficult to hold the hand of us mere mortals as we stumbled through. Though no one will ever really know for sure, I can say with near certainty he wouldn’t be anywhere near as anxious with his four grandchildren. For some reason I peg him as one of those granddads they use in AARP commercials; sitting in his rocking chair in a cardigan sweater (always maroon), silver cropped hair, and showing his eager grandson the proper form for throwing a perfect slider.
By most accounts this is a universal phenomenon. Most seem emphatic their dad is a far better grandparent in almost every area. And why is that? Even with all we know about parenting, especially fatherhood, why does the evidence point to us being much better grandfathers?
Time – Even in our thirties and forties we believe we’ll live forever; we’re suffering the halo affect from our twenties when we knew we would never die. But by our sixties, after a few close friends have moved on for reasons that keep us up at night we begin to feel the weight of our mortality. Suddenly roses smell sweeter, traffic isn’t so bad, and priorities straighten out.
Obligations – Life is tough, it’s even tougher with extra mouths that require clothes, food, iPhones, and tuition to Yale. By the time we’re grandparents that hard part is over. Now we’re resting easy watching as our children pick up where we left off screwing everything up. It’s kind of like seeing your kid get his wisdom teeth out, you hate he has to go through it, but you’re more glad it isn’t you.
Freedom – As a grandparent we can send the grandkids back home whenever we want. Before I had my own, I said the best thing about having children is giving them back. I think grandparents are like that. Sure, we’ll be excited to see the grandchildren as they come through the door, even more so when we know they’ll be leaving through the same one fairly soon.
Perspective – Grandparents have been there, done that, and got the keychain. A grandparent’s perspective is much richer than the parent who has to deal with it in the moment. Johnny failed Algebra, has to take summer school, and dad now thinks he’ll be living in the basement until he’s forty. But Johnny’s grandfather remembers when Johnny’s dad failed Algebra to. And he turned out ok. Sometimes a longer perspective puts things in a different light.
But quite possibly the best reason we will be better grandfathers is pure revenge. What better way to get back at our kids for any number of misdeeds than to spoil their children completely senseless? Remember when you wrecked dad’s ’67 Shelby Cobra, the one he covered up with a silk blanket every night? He never forgot. Or when any trip to the department store meant your parent’s voices went hoarse from the chorus of ‘No’s’ after asking for 3,908 different things? Vengeance is going to be even sweeter when it requires a moving van every time the kids come home from grandpa’s house.