I ’m just getting the hang of this ‘grandfather’ thing – two beautiful grandsons. It has come as a shock – grandparents are supposed to be old people, and I don’t feel ready for that label yet. Many of my happiest childhood memories are of my Da, my grandad. I only had one grandad in New Zealand. The other was in Scotland and I never met him. Da was a loveable rogue. He was the black sheep of a wealthy English family who sent him to the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’.
I’ll never forget being at his place on a Friday night when he arrived home as a happy drunk and had a stray dog in tow. Of course my grandmother, who was very fussy about her house, complained, but I watched as my Da insisted that his guest be fed. When Grandma refused, he gave the stray dog half his roast dinner. He proudly said, “No guest of mine will go hungry in my house!” I thought that he was awesome!
Another vivid memory of my Da was when I was quarantined with scarlet fever at Trentham racecourse at age five. Somehow my Da visited me in the grandstand every Sunday afternoon with a bag of bananas. He biked all the way from Lower Hutt and I’ll never know how he got past security. Sadly, he died when I was 11. My Da, with all his faults, was a dream maker. He inspired me as a little boy and because of my Da, I want to be a fun grandad.
An interesting observation is that my friends who are grandads fall into two categories – the first often say, “It’s good when the grandkids come, but we’re always pleased when they go.” The second group fascinate me with stories of their ‘mateship’ experiences with their grandchildren.
Most modern grandparents do not feel ready to sit quietly for hours in a rocking chair or on the front porch swing. Most of us are wanting stay active! However, this can also be a negative when it comes to our grandchildren. Many grandparents today are so busy with their own activities or careers that they haven’t got time for their grandchildren. It is our availability and time that will give us the opportunity to influence them for good.
I love this quote by Arthur Kornhaber – “There are three times when our lives are totally transformed by natural events without our having to say much about it – when we are all born, when we die, and when we become grandparents.”
So what special things can grandparents do? Becoming a grandparent is a deeply meaningful event in a person’s life. We need to be prepared for such a great opportunity. Grandparents function as a priceless family life resource. Their gifts of time, love, wisdom, practical support, and life perspectives significantly enhance, enrich, and enlarge family bonds. One grandmother we know missed receiving mail from her grandchildren. When she realised they emailed a lot, she bought a computer at 79 years old. Instead of getting bitter and lonely, she now collects emails daily and delights in the communication.
Grandparents create cherished opportunities for multi-generational get-togethers, holiday traditions, birthday celebrations and many memorable milestones. Grandparents give ‘roots’ to the future generations with their stories, recipes, pictures and skills.
Grandparents offer the calming reassurances of continuity and safety. As one child said during a family crisis, “When Gran and Papa come home, it will all be okay.” Grandparents can give perspective – they are the ones who can say, “It’s only a stage” when parents are stressing.
Grandparents function as a back-up system in times of change and crisis. In a pressured world, young parents, teenagers and children need dependable back-up role models of ‘proven history’. Grandparents teach ageless truths to a ‘sound-bite’ generation and have time to share spiritual, moral and life wisdom.
During my 35 years in youth work I was always impressed with the way many teenagers positively related to their grandparents, especially in times of crisis. The words of King Solomon endorse the value of relation to the next generation, “By wisdom a house is built, by understanding it is established, and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.”
I’ve decided to focus my hobbies and pastimes on fun and enjoyable things for my grandchildren. I’ve learned to carve rocking horses and hope this computer generation of grandchildren will still be fascinated with toy-makers. (Well, that’s my excuse). However, I realise I’ll still have to be a ‘whizz bang’ on the internet to collect emails from my grandchildren!
Let us, as grandparents, build a wonderful ‘generational house!’ We need to be cheeky in our grandparenting – after all, who wants to be a boring old buzzard? Let’s get out there and make history!