Thursday, November 27, 2014

When is a great-grandfather not all that great?

I am not now, nor do I envision a future in which I might be, a great grandfather. And let me be clear... By that, I'm not discussing whether one of my grandchildren will have a child and I will become a great-grandfather in family lineage terms. That may happen, but it has nothing to do with this situation.

No, I mean I don't think I'll ever be a great grandfather in the sense of Facebook/bumper sticker/t-shirt messages. You know what I mean. The Facebook post that says, “'Like' if thinking of your grandchildren brings a big smile to your face.” Or, “Retired engineer, full-time grandpa.” Or even, “Ask me about my grandchildren.” Sure, you can ask me about my grandchildren, but if I have to go much further than their names, we're going to be on rocky ground.

I'm more the, “”Who are these children, why do they keep following me, and why do they keep calling me grandpa?” type. I've also considered a t-shirt that reads “I take my grandchildren everywhere, but they keep finding their way back.”

I'm sure you're smirking a knowing smirk, and telling yourself that would be quite bad if it were true and I wasn't just trying to be funny, while you're harboring the thought that it just might be true, which would allow you to feel at least a little superior. Well, here's the thing. As far as all that goes, it is true. I'm not terribly demonstrative about how I feel about my grandchildren. You should let smugness and superiority out of their cages! And don't waste a millisecond on guilt. Feeling proud of your grandchildren is a good thing.

Still, make no mistake- I happen to think my grandchildren great and I think they know that. I think their parents, my daughters and their husbands, know it too. The grandkids range in age from 17 to eight or nine, four boys and a girl. I do not dote on them, although I might if we all lived closer. I do not spoil them, ditto. I don't smile at the very thought of them, although I often laugh at many of the clever things they've said and done.

The way I treat them is, I think, a continuation of how I treated my girls when they were growing up. I had a difficult upbringing because of the way my mother was treated as she grew up. Her stepfather, my grandfather, was the town drunk, a violent and abusive man. My mother was never taught how to be loving and nurturing. She was taught to stay out of the way and take cover.

I didn't want to be like that, so I tried to strike a balance between discipline and letting them find their own levels. How did I do? My ex-wife would probably tell you I was too easy on them. The kids themselves? I don't know. They seem to have turned into adults I like to hang out with, raising kids who are loved and supported in all that they do.

My older daughter Jennifer, her husband, my son-in-law, Mark, and the three boys were able to visit us for this Thanksgiving. That allowed Jennifer to go with me to my monthly appointment at the cancer clinic to see what that was all about. Her sister Alison had visited me when I was in Brigham and Womens for my stem cell transplant, so now they had both gotten an up-close and personal look at my cancer and its treatment.

Jen's two boys, Jacob and Mathew, have been spending a week with us each summer for the past number of years. They missed this year because of my health issues, so they were very happy to be able to come up now, even if it was only for a couple of days.

By the very nature of those visits, we had developed a relationship with Jacob and Mathew that was different from that of the other kids. Sure, in time, the others will all get the chance to come and stay with us in the summer, but for now it was just the two older boys.

Therefore, when I was diagnosed with cancer, though I was concerned about how all of the kids would react, I had a feeling it could be worse for the two older boys- in part because they were... older, and also because we had spent quite a bit of time together without their parents around, time when my attempts to divert them from the straight and narrow were only mildly successful. They would not watch an R rated movie for example, without calling to get their parents permission. I was all “They're part of The Man and all The Man wants to do is keep you down. C'mon boys. Let's Up the Revolution and watch “The Rise of the Planet of the Apes!”

What did I get for my efforts? “Grandfather... There are rules. We must call mother and father to make sure they give their approval to our movie choice.” Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight. Instead of helping to raise budding revolutionaries, I was helping to raise budding Citizens of the Year.

I love these kids and I love my daughters, who are their mothers, and their dads, who are my sons-in-law. My girls grew into women about the same time I was wrestling with many of my own demons. There were times when, it seemed to me, that they're turning out as well as they did was a pretty close run thing. It wouldn't have taken an awful lot for them to have turned out very different.

So, yes, I love my grandkids, all of them. But, I personally don't need messages on clothing, crockery, bumper stickers or anywhere else, to remind myself of the fact. Besides, let's face it. When we wear the shirts, drink from the cup, put the 30-cent stick on our $25,000 car, those messages aren't for us. We know our grandkids are outstanding. We display those messages for the benefit of those around us. We want everyone else to know what we already know: your grandkids are the best. If you used your Captain Crunch Super Secret Decoder Ring on any of those messages, regardless of medium, you'd unravel some variation of: “My grandkids are way better than your grandkids so you can just suck it!”

There are a variety of versions of the story that gives this blog its name. The pony is the constant in all of them. A man is on his way to a party when he comes across a young boy shoveling ass over tea kettle at an enormous mountain of manure. The man asks the child if he wouldn't rather go with him to the party than shovel all that poop. The kid says, “No way man. With all that poop... there must be a pony in there somewhere.”