My friend Paul took up golf so he would have something to share with his boys when they became teenagers. Smart man. Fathers find fewer and fewer activities in common with their children as they grow up and mature.
When my children were small, we connected on every level. I helped them learn to swim, taught them to ride bikes, and every night, told them bedtime stories (with one lying enfolded in each arm). We flew kites and dug for sharks teeth and collected rocks. We made up silly songs in the car and they sang out as loudly as I did. We visited the zoo and played ball and worked in the yard. We visited grandparents and they slept over with cousins.
Then they got to be teenagers. Sing in the car? Dad, you’re kidding, right? Be seen in the mall with you, Dad–do I have to? Oh, and drop me off a block before we get to school so my friends won’t see me getting out of the family car. Family reunion? Boring!
They did let me teach them to drive the car. Usually, it was a Sunday afternoon in an empty parking lot, or down some deserted road. But as soon as they received their license, they preferred to be left alone with their friends.
Life had changed.
It was difficult for me.
I still knew all these great children’s stories, all of which I had made up. I enjoyed the zoo and children’s ball games and everything we had done together. But suddenly, it had all gone away.
I went into depression. Not the clinical, see-a-psychiatrist kind of depression, but more of a gentle sadness that washed over my soul. More than once, I said to my wife Margaret, “I was an adult when these children were small and we did those fun things. I’m still an adult, but they don’t want to do them any more.”
It felt like life was passing me by and I didn’t know how to get back on. When the children went off to college, I sometimes drove to visit them there, but felt like a visitor from another planet. I was offended by the clutter of the dorm rooms, didn’t care much for their friends–some of whom were probably candidates for San Quentin–and could not connect with anything they were doing.
After that, matters only got worse. Electronic games and gadgets came along and I was even more the outsider. (To this day, I walk into an electronics store and feel like Jed Clampett guest-starring on Star Trek. Out of place, geezer, old-timer. Has been.)
Then, gradually, something happened. My children grew up, got married, and started having babies.
I was a grandfather.
Lo and behold, the babies thought I was wonderful. I sang them songs and told them stories and we laughed and giggled. I drew pictures and showed them how to draw. We hung a swing from the tree in the front yard and it became Grandpa’s place with the little ones.
“Grandpa, tell me a story about when you were a little boy.”
Oh, I did. I enthralled those children and they were a great audience. They loved me and I adored them. (Note to my eight grandchildren: I am all too aware that some of you lived far away in places like New Hampshire and North Carolina. But you were always treasures to me, always in my prayers, and the occasional visits to see you are forever etched in my mind and heart.)
Grandchildren, someone has said in jest, are God’s reward for not killing your children when they were teenagers.
More accurately, grandchildren are a brief revisit to your own children’s childhoods. You get the chance to relive the time when they were small and counted on you for everything.
It’s a gift from God.
Gradually, though, the inevitable transition occurs even with grandchildren. They grow up.
The swing in the front yard still hangs there, but it hasn’t been used in months. The grass has filled in the barren spot underneath I thought would last for decades.
The older grandchildren have jobs and special friends. The younger grandchildren are reading their books, playing their electronic games, and texting their friends. No one has asked me for a story in ages.
But something else has happened.
My children have come full circle, in a way. We don’t get together for bouts of silliness or song fests, nothing like that. But we chat on the phone all the time and we hug and they tell me they love me. We forward fun stuff to one another over the internet.
And they treat me like I’m the gift from the Lord.
(The following was written ten years ago. Rather than update it, I want to leave it intact.)
And this week, my sons–they’re in their 40’s now–and I are on an excursion by ourselves. It happened intentionally and accidentally.
Five years ago, Margaret and I were taking a long drive up the East Coast, visiting friends on our way to New Hampshire to see our daughter and her three outstanding children. For some 36 hours, we stopped by Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Driving the lanes and reading the historical markers, I thought more than once, “I have to bring my boys.”
Neil and Marty are both history lovers, although not to the same degree and not exactly in the same way. But we’re all alike in this regard, that we have a deep appreciation for those who came before us and made this country free and great. My sons’ maternal great-great-grandfather, Edmund Waller Henderson, fought with an Alabama regiment in the Civil War, at Chattanooga and Nashville. The boys have his photo and memorabilia on their walls. Neil’s son is Grant Waller McKeever. (Yes, we also admire General Grant!)
When Neil’s daughters chose to attend Camp Hollymont near Asheville, NC, this summer, I volunteered to drive them up. Being retired has its benefits. Then Neil suggested he come along and added, “Why don’t we do something the week they’re at camp?”
It was a short jump to make the connection of Gettysburg. Marty, who lives just down the interstate in Charlotte, NC, pulled strings to get the week off and joined us.
At this moment, we ‘re in the middle of this special week. It feels like a camping trip with your best friends. Did I say camping? We’re staying at a suites hotel so we can have one room but with three beds. (We’re not overdoing the closeness business!)
Today is Wednesday, and they’ve driven over to Lancaster to visit the Amish country. A friend in Mississippi who has connections with these fascinating people e-mailed us with names of restaurants to visit and a few friends to contact. So, Neil and Marty are headed that way, while Grandpa takes a day off. (I’ll lie up and read, do some blogging, and visit the outlet mall next door to the hotel.)
That’s another insight I’ve learned: my adult children need time together without the old man always around.
Neil is missing his girls who are in camp and hundreds of miles away from home for the first time ever. They weren’t even allowed to keep their cell phones. But each night, the camp posts photos of the day’s activities on their website, and parents are given a special code for entering the site and downloading pictures of their little ones swimming or riding or competing.
It’s good for everyone.
When life is over, they say, and you look back, the only things that will matter are family, faith, and friends.
Each is a gift from the Lord.
No gift is greater than fatherhood. That is, unless it’s grandfatherhood, but I suppose they’re one and the same.
For the entire decade of the 1990s, I kept a daily journal. The books with my scribbling eventually came to over fifty, and chronicled every day of the decade, every sermon I preached, and–especially–every birth of a grandchild during that time.
The other evening when one of the grands was over, I said, “Would you like to hear about the day you were born?” She would. And found it fascinating.
It’s all there for the others as they grow up and become more inquisitive about life in “the old days.”
Hey, I’m a grandfather. The old days were anytime before they were born. And I’m an authority on that period.
Life is good. And just keeps getting better.
“Thanks, Lord, for your unspeakable gifts. How great Thou art!”