Monday, March 2, 2009

Becoming Grandpa

I don’t know whether this is just another of those gender difference stereotypes or whether it’s just another deficiency on my part.

Last week, I was talking to a friend about how our son and his new wife came home with a new baby and three dogs. The baby, Conner, is colicky, like Brian was and it cries a lot at night. But other than that it seems pretty happy. I’d held it a couple of times but didn’t feel I had really bonded with it yet.

“I can tell,” said my friend.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“Because you keep referring to your grandson as ‘it’.”

Ouch. The observation stung but it was on target. But I’ve never really taken to babies immediately.

Karen, on the other hand, has always been mother/grandmother waiting to explode. like a maternal land mine. When she first saw Conner, it was exactly like when she first saw Brian. Her mouth made the maternal epiphany look in which her mouth is actually capable of expressing every emotion known to humankind -- simultaneously. Her heart seems slither up her throat and take up residence in her brain from which light actually radiates.

When I first saw Conner, my first reaction was to feel anticipatory guilt because I knew that my features weren’t doing any of that. I was going to start acting. Fake it, ‘til you make it. I’d pick up the baby and say cute things to it. I wondered if this was a guy thing or whether I’m just an emotional cripple when it comes to parenting.

But over the weekend, Brian and Melody came over from where they are now living with my sister-in-law. And for the first time, they were going to go to the movies together and leave Conner with the grandparents! Karen was still illuminating herself, so happy to be grand mothering, she didn’t take it personally that Melody was listing out detailed instructions. I was resigned.

Karen fed him, rocked him, walked with him, grandmothered all over him, then put him down on the bed asleep, propped by pillows so he couldn’t roll off. Then she floated off toward the kitchen, her feet not touching the ground. I sat in my recliner and stared over my handheld video game at Conner.

He was asleep. Looking more closely, I could see his eyeballs moving behind the lids in REM sleep. So he was dreaming? What could he be possibly dreaming of? Certainly his dreams were probably less metaphorical than mine. His upper lip moved. She started to wake up, so I picked him up and sat back in the recliner, rocking a little. He opened his eyes, looked at me, closed them again. He was stirring in that threatening way that says, “If you don’t hold me just right, I’m going to wake up completely and start screaming at you.” But I so far I was winning.

This isn’t so bad, I thought. Maybe I can do this. Maybe I won’t be an emotional failure after all. But, pointing the flashlight into my brain and searching around, I still wasn’t finding lots of real emotion. What I was finding were clues. I wasn’t crazy about being 62. How much was Conner going to know me or me know him anyway? When he grew up, I’d just be a vague memory of an eccentric shadowman with a weird sense of humor in the house where they had the really big television.

Then I thought of my own grandfather. His birthday is December 22, but I may not wait that long to tell of him. He was the single greatest influence on me of my entire life. He was Bagman and Butler but with Michelangelo, Gandhi and Einstein thrown in for good measure.

Now, in the recliner, it was his voice that in my head, questioning me, “How do you know what role you are going to play in Conner’s life? How can you assume what he will remember? Why do you think you will be less of a grandfather to him than I was to you?”

And although, by now, he was completely asleep and I could have put him down, instead I kept holding him and looking at him until and hour later when Melody came, smiling at me, and picking him up to take him home.



  1. Beautiful and tender post today, Mark.

    I've had a few similar moments with my own grandchildren. What is so natural for my wife, has to be earned for me.

    You've captured something beautiful here today.

  2. Oh wonderful! Such honesty and you really hooked me.

    I am Karen, and I loved how you described her. My daughter is getting married this year, so the bursting grandmother in me is getting closer to D-Day.

    Loved the post.

  3. Perfection! My fourth grandbaby is due in September, and I am so excited! Yep, AirmanMom is the grandmom who coos and coddles. Now that my 2 older grandgirls are toddlers, I realize more and more the impact I have on their lives. The memories I make with them (such as doing the Happy Dance) are my gifts to them. I have imprinted them for all of their lives, just as you are now imprinting Connor.
    You are a fine grandpa!

  4. Ahhhh B&B, you big ole softie you? Don't worry, I won't tell a soul your secret. Just the people reading these comments and you posts, lol!
    You love your children, but those grandkiddos are the love of your life. Believe me, I know :)

    Steady On
    Reggie Girl

  5. Beautiful post! I am looking forward to the day. You're ten years ahead of me, though.

  6. What a lovely post! You reminded me of my father and how he seemed to morph into someone I never knew when my son, his first grandchild, was born - he cried easily, the love poured out of him, he became infinitely more patient. The relationships he has with my son, and now my daughter and my nephew, are to be seen to be believed. It is amazing to me that you are so mindful of what you are experiencing. Happy granfathering!

  7. You are a sweetie.

    I am dreading 'grandparenthood'.

    How does one do it?

    I will remember these words one day and think back to my grandmother who always made you feel she loved you best.


  8. A great post. Truly.

    My oldest grandchild graduates from Virginia Tech this summer. How's about that? Getting to the great-grandchild age, I guess. How many times grandchildren have made me think about the meaning of life and the universe. They certainly add a new and different dimension to reality. Enjoy the hell out of them. Be a kid again.

    And a quote I read recently - you and your grandchildren have a common enemy.

  9. p.s. Barry did not mention anything in hiw comment but go and read his latest post. How significant grandchildren are!

  10. I have young ones in my family, and I was always able to be their best friend in the matter of one visit. I don't think it is a gender thing, just a comfort thing. You are going to be looked up to very much.

  11. Thanks everyone for comments...I am giving up trying to answer all of them but do always go and look at blogs of people who comment.

  12. PS...Si, my wife and I went to graduate school at Virginia Tech. She graduated of course. I never finish anything.

  13. Now I noticed something very interesting in this post..B&B were silent bystanders. I think they were in awe of this little tender scene playing out in front of them...

  14. Aww, i love my grandpa, i'm glad you can refer to him as a gender now. I'm a girl but i'm not too fussed on babies really. I look at them and say "hey kid" and they look at me and poo.
    happy grandfathering
    love wilwarin

  15. Just by writing this post you have bonded. If he remembers a crazy grandpa with a big TV fondly, then you have done well.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, hope some aussie vibes can head your way.