Sorry Fathers; Grandpa Knows Best
I see a lot of posts on facebook by my friend Brian Duffy, whom I’ve known since his sister and I met in 5th grade over 45 years ago (yikes, by the way). Many are about our common passion, the Chicago Blackhawks, and there is no shortage of sarcastic and hilarious memes. But one in particular caught my eye the other day.
There was Brian’s bearded, burly, flannel shirt-clad self, sitting happily with his grey hair curled into a lovely up-do, courtesy of his granddaughters. His response when some of us started making comparisons to Cindy Lou Who: “I look fabulous.”
And when I asked him if it was okay to use the picture on my blog, not only did he agree, but encouraged me to look through his other pictures, in the hope of finding his “tea party uniform complete with feather boa, Hello Kitty barrettes in my beard, scrunchies and sparkly nail polish.”
Yeah, he’s a grandpa all right, and a fantastic one at that. Because when you let the grand kids use you as their personal Mr. Potato Head, you’ve passed a critical litmus test in the grandpa department.
I know of which I speak, because, luckily, I’ve seen plenty of exceptional grandpas in action.
We lived downstairs of my dad’s parents in a Chicago two flat until we moved when I was in the aforementioned 5th grade. It was cool to be able to go upstairs and see them after school. I don’t recall ever styling my grandpa’s hair, but can still see him unashamedly wiping a tear from his eye after presenting him with a handmade birthday card.
One of my other fond memories was of something that would never fly today — him bringing me along with him to the corner tavern. I clearly remember sitting up on that high bar stool, drinking my Kitty Cocktail while the other ruddy-faced Irishmen made a fuss over me. Nothing untoward about it – just feeling like Queen for a Day thanks to Grandpa.
Fast forward about 20 years, when the birth of our first daughter, Rachel, made my mom and dad grandparents. Do guys still hand out cigars when babies are born? Well, they still did in 1984, and when Mike gave my dad his cigar, he lit it, took a puff, and said, “The best cigar I’ve ever smoked.” And so it began.
When the grandchildren were babies, it was an Olympic feat for anyone to get them away from my dad. He apparently had an arm that never wore out, because he could hold them up against his chest for hours on end. They all came home smelling deliciously of after shave lotion. It wasn’t long, though, before they were ready to play.
My mother had infinite patience for coloring and crafts and Barbies and reading. I’m sure we’ll talk at length about all that one day. Meanwhile, my dad gave horsey rides, threw the ball in the house, listened to jokes and riddles as if they were brand new, and, when the time was just right, enlightened them on the most sacred of grandpa traditions: pull my finger.
And, of course, thanks to those granddaughters, he served as a live hairdresser’s mannequin on more than one occasion.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention my father-in-law, George. While I don’t recall him ever getting a makeover, he did give each of his grandchildren their first driving lesson. At age 12. Just one lesson, and then they nagged us continually until they got their permits to drive again. “Talk to Grandpa,” we’d reply. And I must admit, they are all great drivers.
Which brings me to the best grandpa I know. It is such a joy to watch Mike with our two grandsons. They adore him, and the feeling is mutual. He takes the time to show them how to do things when it would be easier to do it himself. He tries to instill the importance of family and traditions, which they have embraced. He’s a pushover, but also makes it clear there are rules and that everyone – kids and adults – need to be respectful of each other. Imagine what fantastic grandpas they will make, following in these spectacular footsteps.
As much as I love watching Mike with the boys, I do hope to someday be able to see him with a granddaughter.
He is going to rock those Hello Kitty barrettes!