Cheryl and I got some good news a few weeks back, which you could describe as unexpected news, but really it was more like expectant news. We found out we’re going to be grandparents for the third time.
It’ll happen sometime around New Year’s, give or take a day or two, which largely depends on the grandbaby’s basic understanding of income tax advantages, sense of fiscal responsibility and willingness to arrive before the New Year’s Eve midnight countdown ends. This one will be the first for our son Steven and daughter-in-law Amanda.
And it reinforces what I already learned with our grandboy, Jacob, who’s 4, and grandgirl, Adeline, who’s a year and a half now. I can’t speak for the womenfolk, since I’m not one and the ones I know stress about things I didn’t know needed to be stressed about, but being a grandpa has a heckuva lot less pressure than being a daddy, or a daddy-to-be for that matter.
As a grandpa, you have certain inalienable rights and responsibilities (the latter being more accurately defined, in some people’s notion, as irresponsibilities). You get to decide what the grandchild will call you (I, by the way, chose something that wasn’t too ostentatious). And you get to, basically, spoil the young ‘un rotten, then turn the grandchild back over to your (in my case) son and daughter-in-law so that they can deal with what you had to deal with way back when.
The first time this occurred to me was when Steven, our oldest, was around seven. I was trying to make him eat something that Cheryl and I had defined as being “good for you,” healthy, if you will. Daddy, who had backed Momma up in every instance in which she tried to force me to eat something green that wasn’t candy, told me to quit being, and I paraphrase this for the purposes of a family newspaper, a darn jerk about the situation.
“I don’t recall,” I said in as perturbed a voice as I could muster, “you being so broadminded about that sort of thing back when I was a kid.”
“Yeah, well, that was different,” he explained.
He then smiled with the satisfaction of having made his point.
Which is a point I understood. For instance, when our son Justin told us that Jacob had taken our daughter-in-law Catherine’s nail polish and painted up their bathroom with it, my biggest concern, having studied art in college and having encouraged the budding young artist as much as I could, was whether Jacob had “stayed inside the lines.”
A grandparent can take that approach because you can appreciate the cleverness a great deal more when you’re not the one who has to clean up the mess.
There’s also the appreciation of sudden spurts of wisdom exhibited by grandchildren. When Catherine told Jacob that night that she still couldn’t believe what he had done, he said, matter-of-factly, “Mommy, sometimes it’s best that you don’t believe.”
It’s much easier to enjoy these sorts of things simply because you don’t have the pressure of being the parent. When Cheryl and I married, I said two little words — “I do” — and instantly went from being a 28-year-old bachelor with no responsibilities to being a 28-year-old married guy who was responsible for a wife and two young boys.
And I was scared slap to death.
Not necessarily about paying bills and that sort of thing, not that those weren’t concerns more times than a few, but about screwing up the lives of two little boys who were suddenly depending on me for everything. And there were no instructions at a time when I really needed something like a stereo manual to show me what to do. Normally, I eschew instruction manuals, but this time I really, really wanted one.
At some point I asked Daddy whether he’d ever felt anything like that. Turned out he had. He didn’t have a manual either, just did a lot of making it up as he went along. To his credit, all I ever saw was confidence.
So, I tried to do the same thing — act confident, even when I was second-, third- and fourth-guessing myself.
What a dad finds out is, yeah, you’ll make some mistakes — plenty of them, in fact, many of which will be pointed out to you by your wife in no uncertain terms. And unlike video games, there are no do-overs. You have to do the best you can to rectify them. But, most important, you never let your kid wonder whether you love him or her. And you make sure they know you’ll always be there for them, no matter what.
The good thing is that after all the worrying, stressing, praying and hoping, it works out.
While I’ve never said it exactly this way, if my sons learned just one thing from me, I hope it’s this: Don’t try to be a perfect father. On Earth, there’s no such thing. Just be a really good dad.
Oh, and on the choosing-what-your-grandchild-will-call-you thing … I went with Big Papa Cool Jim. Probably too subtle, but it does have a nice ring to it.
Email Jim Hendricks at email@example.com.