Several weeks ago, someone suggested a topic for this bundle of ideas I submit to the Tribune now and then. The suggestion came to me from a member of a group of nice Presbyterian ladies who get …
Several weeks ago, someone suggested a topic for this bundle of ideas I submit to the Tribune now and then. The suggestion came to me from a member of a group of nice Presbyterian ladies who get together from time to time to drink coffee and discuss the state of the world and how to improve on it.
The suggestion was not actually made to me, but to my wife, Karen, who joins this group regularly. The suggestion was that I should write more about my grandchildren, because, apparently, the person making the suggestion thought those are the columns she thinks are my best. By the time the suggestion got to me, it seemed to be more of a directive than a suggestion, and I have learned to treat her suggestions as though they are commands.
In this case, I am pretty sure it was meant to be a directive, because I made a rather bad error the last time I mentioned my grandkids. I got their ages wrong. I said the girls were 13, when in fact, they are both 15, and one of them will be turning 16 by Christmas. The 13-year-olds are the two boys.
Why I made such a mistake is a mystery, especially since I have been hearing about the process of earning a Minnesota driver’s license, which involves several sessions of instruction for the girl who wants to drive and her parents. I think I’ve earned several hours of college credit in less time than the course my granddaughter is required to complete. The older girl doesn’t have that problem, because she can’t drive in Ethiopia, either because of Ethiopian laws or regulations set by the Embassy, but that doesn’t seem to bother her.
Aside from messing up the kids’ ages, though, I have approached grandfatherhood very carefully. I never had the opportunity to learn how to be a grandfather, and I want to do it right. This gap in my grandfather IQ exists due to acute appendicitis, which killed my mother’s dad when she was only 10 and unaware that she was going to have me. I actually do remember my other grandfather, but I was only about 3. I only remember him as a shadowy figure who showed me the cookoo clock in his living room and the chess set on a table next to the stairs in his house. That’s the only time I remember seeing him before he died when I was 6.
My wife’s father died a few months after our daughter Erica was born, and we have a picture of him holding her when she was an infant. We have pictures of her playing with my dad, but she was only 3 years old when he died, a few months after our son was born. She has no real memory of having a grandfather. As a result of this grandpa-less history, I felt clueless about what grandfathering entails when I was faced with becoming one. My kids don’t remember having a grandfather, so they probably weren’t sure what to expect of me.
Fortunately, I have learned a lot about grandfathering. Our son’s two kids have had both of their grandfathers, although neither of us is in very good shape right now. It’s a little hard for me to be their grandfather because their parents’ careers have taken them to Haiti, Niger and Ethiopia. But they are back in the U.S. every other year, and we spend as much time as we can with them when they are here. And before they left for their first station we worked hard to make sure they would know us when they came back.
Our daughter’s kids, though, are missing one grandpa. Vad, our son-in-law, lost his father, who disappeared during the murderous regime of the Communist dictator Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge party in Cambodia. They targeted people who were educated, or had connections with the former government for execution. Vad’s father, who ran a school and whose father-in-law was an officer in the army, fit into both categories. In addition, his father was ethnic Chinese, and even though his wife, Vad’s mother, was ethnically Khmer, the Khmer Rouge treated people as a threat to their aims. One day Vad’s father left to go to work and never returned.
Vad has an older sister and a younger brother and their mother managed to escape to Thailand and eventually found sponsors who brought them to Minnesota where they have built a good life. They knew and remember their father. But all Vad has now to remember him is a battered black-and-white photo of him with the staff of the school he ran. I can’t replace that grandpa, but I am trying hard to be a good one.
I don’t think this column is quite what the person who suggested it was looking for, so I might have to write another. In that one, I’ll focus on the four personalities that call me Grandpa and how they have become a part of me in spite of the distance between us.
It might take some time to develop that essay, so stay tuned.