When It All Comes to an End

Published August 3, 2017 in Warp & Woof

When It All Comes to an End
… Grandfatherly Affection for a Very Young Grandchild
William Sundwick
I’ve read much about the pros and cons of a late start raising a family. Often, these pieces are aimed at young women, with the best of intentions. There are good feminist reasons for delaying child birth, although not too long, for equally valid medical reasons. And, much research indicates that older parents are often better parents. But, what about dads? Are they also better dads if they are more mature, better established in their chosen profession? There is so much incentive to get more years of education, more secure financial position, better resume – all before becoming “tied down” to a family!
As a result, dads get old before they become grandfathers. 
And grandfathers, especially if they have raised their kids to also start late, can be very old! What may be gained by providing that steadier hand for their children, is offset when it comes to generational continuity as grandfather. I’m not saying that I should live to be a great grandfather, but it would be nice to see your grandchildren (at least one of them) grow into a man, graduate from college, meet a spouse –whatever.

Sigh. I have a 20-month old grandson. There may be more coming, maybe not. But, I know I’m not getting any younger — despite the rejuvenating effect of babysitting a toddler. Actuarially, I’m not likely to make it very far into his adulthood. I’m 70 now.
 He will soon learn my name — I hear attempts to say something approaching “appa,” but usually he gives up and just shouts “daa-daa” (even when his own dad is not present).
But, will he ever know me? Since we live in the same area, theoretically there is every chance that we can become very familiar. I am, so far, in pretty good health. No obvious infirmities, but that may change by the time he reaches a more impatient stage in his own development (adolescence).  Grandma seems more playful, less reserved, than Grandpa – perhaps Grandpa is intentionally withholding that playful side, for fear of it being unrequited?
What common experiences will we share? Right now, his world consists mostly of exploring his new-found autonomy and agency — everything is new. He’s fascinated by all of it, but certain behaviors have longer-lasting appeal, it seems. He loves placing things in containers, and tries endless combinations of different things being placed in the same container. He also assiduously mimics kitchen behavior — “cut, cut” with a plastic knife or fork is downright compulsive. It is always followed by “eat” or “food” o “hot” — among his earliest words. Both parents are die-hard hipster foodies! His mother maintains a vegetable garden … and often works there with him. And, his other grandfather gave him a kitchen play set which has been sitting in the dining room since before he could stand at its mock sink and oven. Now he prepares full meals there – placing pots on burners (“hot”), offering plates of fake soft pillow fruits and vegetables to his guests (“eat”, “food”). 
Eventually, I must accept that grandpa will mostly be known by his legacy, not by shared experiences. When it all comes to an end, that legacy will hopefully be transmitted by his dad. His dad knows me, for sure. And, whatever family history is conveyed to my grandchildren, I trust my two sons will relay the appropriate mix of myth vs. reality.
How can I protect him from the future, after I’m gone? I’m convinced that things will get increasingly difficult during his lifetime. By the time he’s my age, much of the planet may well be uninhabitable. Even if apocalyptic climate change is somehow averted, there is still the ever-present danger of social collapse. Migration to another country may be necessary, to escape the inexorable drift toward civil war in the U.S. Then, what about other dangers — disease, accidents, economic dislocation? I don’t want him to endure any of these afflictions. Can my legacy provide him security? Probably not, alas.
As I contemplate human history, however, I ask myself: isn’t this the universal condition of civilization? One generation passes its legacy to the next, nobody lives forever. That legacy is always a skillful blend of storytelling, part myth, part documented events. Teaching a younger generation “life’s lessons” has always been a dicey proposition, at best — it makes more sense just to tell a good story!
My grandson doesn’t know any of this yet. He’s too busy finding things that fit inside other things, and mimicking kitchen behavior of his parents. But, he is learning at a phenomenal rate. So long as he is protected from disaster, we’ll tell ourselves, “What he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.” And, his parents both believe they do know it — all! — a bonus for him. Their confidence is truly amazing. They are among the lucky few who may be right about that, too!
As for myself, Grandpa, I remain optimistic that my wisdom will be accepted, if offered in small doses. Perhaps it will even be sought at times. Grandparents are, indeed, helpful — babysitting in a pinch, allowing them escape from the crushing burden of 24/7 toddler parenting duty; or, those errands run for overworked, ambitious parents. And, then, there’s that Virginia 529 college savings plan … 
Fingers crossed, my grandson and I are poised to explore many new things together — for a while, at least. And, when it all comes to an end – there is that legacy!

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