On occasion, in the course of these essays of mine, I let slip that I have two grandchildren, both girls, one, Saoirse, now 6, and the other Moxie, now 4. They are the children of my son, Darius, and his wife, Caroline. Caroline was born in Ireland, hence the name of their oldest child that in Irish means “freedom.” The name “Moxie” comes from my son, primarily, but the Irish influence appears again in her middle name, Finn. Unfortunately, Caroline and Darius are getting a divorce after 10 years of marriage. This is a painful experience for all of us, but especially hard on the children, as you might imagine, due to the physical disruption of it all. Darius moved to an apartment some months ago, while the girls and their mother have remained in the house they all shared. This entire experience is complicated for Diana, my wife, and me, since we moved to Los Angeles specifically to be with both of our children (our daughter and her husband live here, too) and our grandchildren. And we live in a lovely converted garage behind the house that once was a home for son, daughter-in-law, and their children. Messy, as you can see! If Diana and I had known that my son and his wife had a troubled relationship, we never would have moved from our Dallas home. Yet, we both enjoy living in LA, yes, despite the traffic and the earthquakes, and the fires. Since we are about 1 1⁄2 miles from the beach, a brisk walk, the weather is little short of idyllic. I still cannot get used to having to put on a sweater in the middle of the afternoon, even in the middle of the summer, but believe me; I am indeed getting used to it!
This too lengthy preamble, that some of you may judge as TMI, is by way of musing a bit on what it means to be a grandfather. Often in these articles, I find some inspiration from one biblical story or another, usually from the Hebrew Bible, to tease my aging brain into active thought. Alas, there is in fact no biblical word for grandparent of either sex, though the scriptures are quite full of family stories. One can certainly imagine that more than a few biblical characters were grandparents, especially given the hordes of offspring they sometimes produced. Think of King David who is said to have had at least 7 wives—that many are given names—but probably had many more. From each of those wives he produced children, and he lived long enough, it seems obvious, for some of those children to have had children of their own. We do know that a son of Jonathan, son of Saul, Mephibosheth by name, was taken care of by David, both for reasons of his remembered close relationship with Jonathan, and probably to keep watch over the boy, the last male heir of the house of Saul.
David proved himself to be a very poor father; he was not vigilant to protect his daughter, Tamar, from his love-starved son, Amnon, nor was he careful to guide the growing up of his handsome and ambitious son, Absalom, who stirred up the people against his father, leading to David’s removal from Jerusalem. We can thus assume that David was no better as grandparent than as father. Indeed, the stories of the Bible are littered with quite terrible tales about the relationships between fathers and children, from the first named priest, Eli, to the famous priest/prophet, Samuel, both of whom had wastrel sons. Little wonder that the modern jokes about “PKs”, “preacher’s kids,” as excessively wild and unruly, ring biblical echoes in our own day. Since I have two PKs myself, I try not to think about these stories overmuch.
There are hence no real models for my grandparenting to be found in the Hebrew Bible, and since the two major leaders of emerging Christianity, Jesus and Paul, remained unmarried, as far as we know, there is hardly any direct help there either. Of course, before my grandchildren were born, I had heard a passel of clichés about what they might mean for my life. “Just wait until you have grandchildren,” my aging friends announced; “it will be great—you can love them, spoil them, and then hand them back to their parents when you tire of them.” Well, I must admit, there is a good bit of truth in that one. “Since you have already gained vast experience as a parent, you can help these new parents as they steer through the muddy waters of child-rearing. They can use you as a sounding board for their fears and frustrations.” This is perhaps less true in my case; I did indeed raise two children from babyhood, though I doubt I would ever have been nominated as father of the year, or even father of the minute. And I do not remember many times when my son or daughter-in-law sought out my so-called wisdom to aid them with their parenting, even when they were doing that task together. Besides, I doubt I had any real wisdom to impart; children never come with a set of instructions, and since each one is so different, a Dr. Spock or any parenting guru can only help so much.
Diana and I have tried as hard as we can to make our tiny home a place of fun and safety for these precious children. We are always anxious for a visit, whether arranged or spontaneous, so we can hear their eager and excited voices tell us about their days, or so they can simply sit and draw together, a task they both adore. Being sisters, the competition is sometimes fierce, and I assume that fierceness will hardly recede with time. What Saiorse does, Moxie must do, and woe to either Diana or me if we do not expend our energies equally on both of them. “Watch me,” each will shout, and we will watch and commend the skills displayed, whether artistic or gymnastic or theatrical. And if one or the other feels slighted by us they will readily let us know, either with a further demand or, horribly, by a sit down pout. Being a grandparent demands vigilance and patience, both of which I do not always display in the needed volumes. Diana is more patient than I, but both of us, now in our 70’s, do tire more easily and are indeed glad when they take their bundles of energy back to Mom or Dad. I am pleased to say that both Caroline and Darius are better parents of these children than they were when they were trying to ford the rivers of a crumbling marriage, so sending them back to either parent is not a scary proposition in any way. And both children do indeed love both their parents, despite the now peculiar situation of their living arrangements.
I love being a grandfather, but have no real idea whether I am very good at it, however being “good” may be defined. I do know that their curiosity feeds mine, their energy saps mine, their wonder at the newness of things reminds me of the newness that I have too often made old. It is a great gift from God to be a grandfather, and though at times I wish they would “just grow up,” I know deep down that I will probably not see that growing up as it occurs, at least not much of it. After all, I am 73 years old, and the actuarial tables are not to be denied. But I will take what I get, and what I get right now are two lively girls who love me and whom I love. What more can an old man ask?
(images from Wikimedia Commons)