When I was young I remember special days at school, when we were supposed to invite guests to join us. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were relatively easy (if my dad was in town). The celebration of uncles and aunts was decidedly harder, but sometimes got fulfilled. But the toughest one by far was Grandparents’ Day because none of my biological grandparents were alive save my dad’s father, and he was a nomad down in the Carolinas. Not helpful for a kid living in Philadelphia when most other kids in my class had one or two grandparents come and visit them on the special day.
I came to despise Grandparents’ Day, sometimes faking sick on the day just so I wouldn’t have to face the joy in other kids’ eyes when “Poppy” or “Grams” came in bearing baked goods and Kool-aid. On those days I only thought of myself and what I was missing, though, and I was never grateful for what I actually had that other kids didn’t. I had two parents who were alive, who both loved me, and who were there for me if I needed them. I didn’t realize back then how rare that trifecta was.
Then I got older and had kids of my own, and even though both sets of their grandparents are alive and well, they have no relationships with either grandfather. And we’re lucky they haven’t really asked about that yet but the time is coming and it’s going to be tough letting them know the harsh realities of this world. I still don’t know what we’re going to say, how much we’ll really say about those men who were there for us when we were little but who aren’t in our children’s lives at all.
I would have given anything to know my grandfathers, to spend lazy Sundays putting together puzzles on the parquet floor, laughing at their corny jokes, and playing catch in the patchy yard. I would have loved listening to their stories about the war, or about how they met my grandmothers, or even about their trip to the pharmacist the other day. It’s crazy thinking back how much I envied those kids who took all of that for granted, so it makes my heart ache when I think of my children not having that chance.
My father is selfish. I’ve finally admitted that to myself after years of denial. He is who he has always been, a man who is married to the prison ministry and to basically anyone else who isn’t related to him. I’m not even sure how that works but when I talk to any of my brothers and sisters they say the same thing because they see him the same way. I’ve seen him once in the past 10 years, and even that was stilted, so odd that I don’t know how he would even respond to my children at this point.
My wife’s father gave her an ultimatum when she said she wanted to be with me. It was either him or me, but really it was either him or her freedom because he too is selfish. He wants things to go his scripted way and if they don’t he is as stubborn as a dog trying to hang onto a bone. I know this from my wife because he has never spoken to me or to his grandchildren even though he lives just down the road. I guess he is true to his word, a great trait usually, but in this case it’s just sad for everyone involved. And I can’t help but feel for the kids the most.
So these ideas of grandfathers that I have are probably grounded in fantasy, the way I saw my peers’ grandfathers and the way I remembered their interactions through rose-colored glasses. Maybe there aren’t these perfect men out there who adore and dote on their grandchildren, smiling and spending quality time with them. Perhaps this “grandfather” is like a yeti and the stories are self-perpetuating. But I prefer to think not, that I just haven’t come in contact with one of these men yet but that they exist somewhere out there.
I just wish my kids had one of them.