It does make me a little jealous to see the close relationship baby has with my parents. As a kid, I never had anything like she has, and will continue to have, with my parents — especially my father.
I remember having childhood friends who spoke of all the adventures they experienced with their grandparents and wondering why mine had to live so far away from me. I only saw mine twice a year or so, meaning every time we were reunited there was a long breaking-in period when I had to get to know them again.
My two grandmas were everything I imagine a grandma could be – soft, warm, doting and playful. My grandma Mynatte is smart, funny and is now my biggest fan, asserting I’m the most wonderful mother she’s ever seen. My Grandma Betty developed Alzheimer’s and passed away when I was relatively young, but I have memories of going to the mall with her, hearing her hearty laughter and playing with her in the manifold mirror in her bedroom, our giddy selves reflected infinite times.
My grandpas, on the other hand, were less prominent in my childhood. Maybe this was a product of their generation, in which southern men were expected to be tough, distant breadwinners. Or maybe it was just their identities as Baptists: the Bible asserts that women should call their husbands “master” while quietly attending to issues of the home, a lifestyle that they actually take quite seriously.
I respected them, but I can’t really say I felt much warmth from them. Grandpa Clarence was a prisoner of war in WWII. I read his memoir when I was 12 and couldn’t believe the things he saw and experienced. My grandpa Frank worked as a salesman his whole life to keep food on the table for his six children. Yes, they were resilient. Definitely tough. Grandpa Clarence was quirky, too, and often playful. But truly loving? I don’t know. Even their hugs were hard, jolting.
My dad, now a first-time grandpa, is completely different. He sees my daughter maybe twice a week, but wants to see her more. We have a running joke about his wanting to hold her, too – early on, he would say, “you must need a break,” or “your arms must be really tired” or “let me hold her while you get your car keys,” when I finally snickered and replied, “if you want to hold her, you can just say so.” Now, he’ll make a hyperbolic version of one these statements with a knowing sparkle in his eye before gladly scooping his granddaughter into his arms.
He and my mom have a sort of good cop/bad cop going with her, except it’s loud grandparent/quiet grandparent, in which my mom gets baby giggling with games followed by my dad carrying her around and softly introducing her to the various knickknacks on the mantle. Of course, he gets goofy, too, crawling around behind her in spite of his 57-year-old knees.
If you didn’t really know him, you wouldn’t expect him to act like this. He’s very tall, dark hair peppered with gray, and the kind of face you’d expect a doctor or professor to have. Before retirement he was a top executive at a Fortune 100 pharmaceutical company, burdened with long work hours and high accountability. He had to lay off dozens of people in one day during the start of the great recession, a task that still haunts him. He had to lead presentations and coordinate gatherings all over the globe. He always felt a sense of professional inadequacy, regardless of the accolades along the way, because his degree was in theology, not business. I know these experiences hardened him, even pushed him away from us at times.
But when he interacts with my daughter, I see him channeling his 30-year-old self — the man he was when I was a little girl. Before having a granddaughter, the residue of his career still clouded his face. His frown lines were prominent. He smirked more often than smiled. Now, he laughs.
And he’s redefining the word “grandpa” for me.
I finally see that a grandpa can, indeed, be like the grandpas in health insurance commercials – the ones who go fishing with their grandchildren or play catch in the yard. Granted, my dad’s less of an outdoorsman and more the type to take my daughter to the theatre or teach her woodworking or explain how to peruse the pages of Consumer Reports, but still, bonding.
What’s even more promising about baby’s relationship with my parents is that I plan on living where I am for a long time. They will be here to advise baby as she grows, offer answers to her questions about life and love, something I would’ve never dreamed of experiencing with any of my grandparents.
But much stronger than my jealousy is my gratitude that baby will have close grandparents in her life. It’s already obvious how much she loves them: when we pull into their driveway and she sees them, her legs start kicking and her face lights up. When she was a newborn, my dad likened holding my daughter to winning the lottery. But I think it’s the other way around: having my parents as grandparents, my daughter is the lottery winner.