The other day I listened to a grandfather wax lyrical about his granddaughter. He was relating how she had chosen a rather comfortable chair to sit in and read. The grandfather was both impressed by her choice of chair – in the sun with a view of the ocean in the distance – and that she wanted to read. I could feel the pride emanating from his chest.
Touching? Yes, but hardly unusual is it? But I thought it was, because I have no memories of any grandfathers. They were all long dead before I was even born. I have had no personal role model of what a grandfather does.
I did a quick survey of my baby boomer friends and came up with the same data – none had known their grandfathers. Their grandmothers had often loomed large in their lives, but not the men.
Why was this? My own parents were older adults by the time they had me and my sister. They had either delayed marriage and children because of the war or had just not fulfilled their demographic responsibilities in their 20s like the average of the population.
Hence, by the time I was cognisant of the world around me, the grandfathers on both sides of my family had well and truly dropped off the perch. In fact, due to some fossicking in the family tree, I discovered that one of my grandfathers had had a previous marriage with seven children and then done it all again, producing seven more children, one of whom was my mother. He was probably worn out, that was why he died. No, I jest, he probably was just old.
Now we know that today women outlive men by an average of five years. So, despite the fact that there are more boys than girls born every year, the men do not last as long. Mother nature knows a thing or two about male behaviour, be that driving fast cars, jumping out of aeroplanes or going to war.
But hopefully now with modern medicine and greater life expectancy for both genders, we will see more grandfathers in the lives of their grandchildren.
So, what do I now know of grandfathers?
The few grandfathers that I have seen in action are thrilled to be down on the floor playing with their grandkids, something that maybe they didn’t get the chance to do with their own children. Perhaps they were so busy with the business of earning an income that they missed out on sections of their own kids’ lives.
They seem to relish the caring role and now, of course, have the time in retirement to muck about with the next generation. Many set up particular tasks that they do with their grandkids, from gardening to cooking. Many just hang around with them, letting the kids take the lead in play and behaviour.
A few I know are also taking on the complete parenting role of their grandchildren, due to death or issues such as drug addiction of the parents. This is challenging but it seems non-negotiable, a role that most grandparents, both men and women, feel compelled to throw themselves into.
A few others have been estranged from their grandchildren and deeply feel the loss of contact. Many quiet, despairing tears have been shed over lost years.
In all of these observations, the one feature that comes across is the sense of love and attachment they have for their grandkids. Perhaps the DNA connection is strong, seeing aspects of themselves in their grandchildren, the selfish gene as Richard Dawkins declared. Or perhaps it is just the desire to be remembered that haunts all of us as we age.
Were you lucky enough to have a grandfather in your life? Are you a grandfather? Does this story resonate with you? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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