Out there: Grandfatherly changes

Cradling Junior in my arms, I also experienced something my youngest son, now approaching 22, felt when he reached 20: A change of status.

Illustration by Pepe Fainberg (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
Illustration by Pepe Fainberg
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
As The Wife and my children can attest, I am not from the great romantics, at least not in the 21st-century, Hollywood sense of the word.
I’m not a sunset-on-the-beach, candlelight- dinner, send-a-box-of-candy kind of guy. Years ago, when I was courting The Wife, there was a period where she thought she wanted to be “just friends.” The most romantic letter I ever penned included the following sentimental line: “If I wanted friends, I’d join a bowling club.”
Nope, romance wasn’t really my thing.
And of all the modern ideas of love promulgated in movies, songs and books these days, the one in which I take the absolute least stock is the notion of “love at first sight.”
Love, as I see it, is not some instantaneous event, not some on-the-spot, metaphysical clicking of two hearts and souls. Rather, it is something nurtured and cultivated. There may be “desire at first sight,” but love takes more time to develop.
Or so I thought. Until 10 days ago, when I laid eyes for the first time on my first grandson: Junior, the heir to Skippy and his wife.
It’s a unique sensation, the first time you meet a grandchild. That, truly, is love at first sight.
“We like children first of all because they are ours; prolongations of our luscious and unprecedented selves,” Will Durant once wrote. The same can be said of grandchildren.
The heart simply melts when gazing upon what Durant called “this queer bundle of sound and pain” that will experience so much and which holds so much potential.
Indeed, the feeling of connection with that wondrous “bundle” predates even the first sighting.
When the phone rang at 6 a.m. a week-and-a-half ago, both The Wife and I knew what it meant – we had been waiting for this moment in theoretical terms since our four kids reached marriageable age years ago, and in practical terms since we figured out some seven months ago that our daughter-in-law was pregnant.
“Mazal tov, Savta and Saba [Grandma and Grandpa],” Skippy – whose emotional range on the phone generally fluctuates from “b’seder [okay]” to “b’seder gamur [completely okay]” – shouted very excitedly into the receiver.
We asked about the birth, and Skippy replied that both mother and child were healthy, and then spoke in passing about a minor complication during the delivery.
And then – boom! – the first emotional connection to the new life hit me hard, and it was a connection born of instant worry. Is everything okay? Will there be any ramifications?
With those thoughts I realized that the pool of people whom I spend a great deal of emotional energy worrying about – The Wife, the kids, my father and, most lately, my daughter-inlaw – has suddenly gotten bigger, and I hadn’t even met the baby yet.
When I did make the infant’s acquaintance a few hours later, I took him into my arms and welcomed him to the world with a “Howdy-do.” Love was instantly kindled, with no real reason other than that the completely dependent little creature I was holding was a small part of myself.
A grandfather now for only a little over a week, I’m still trying to figure it all out. But one thing I’ve already experienced is feeling a rekindling of those first embers of love. I felt them when I courted The Wife all those years ago, and when my own kids were born – but the last time that happened was almost 22 years ago.
Looking down at that baby, I felt the same emotion I felt when I looked down at my newborn children. To feel those embers again was rejuvenating, and when you reach the age of a grandparent, your emotional palate can use some rejuvenation. It’s good; it’s refreshing.
Also, just looking at that squishy little face and astonishing little fingers can serve as a bulwark against cynicism. Age, life experience, journalism can all harden you, make you cynical, jaded, less attuned to the world’s wonders. Holding a newborn grandchild fends against that.
What I didn’t feel, looking into that sweet face, was something I felt in 1993 when Skippy was born: a sense that maybe, just maybe, there would be no reason for him to go into the army when his turn comes.
Naw, it will take much more than one grandson to make me that starry- eyed. What I thought about instead was the irony of how the son I hoped and prayed at birth would not have to go into the army some 20 years down the line is still currently a soldier, probably harboring the same naive thoughts while he rocks his own son.
Cradling Junior in my arms, I also experienced something my youngest son, now approaching 22, felt when he reached 20: A change of status.
The Youngest tells a great tale of when he was driving on his 20th birthday, and an angry driver got out of the car and berated him at a street corner for letting too many cars get in front of him. With the berater a middle-aged man, my son’s first reflex was just to stoically take it in and apologize.
“Then I remembered I was 20,” he tells the story, “and I realized I was no longer a kid and didn’t have to take this anymore. So I started yelling back.”
Having now had my status upgraded to that of a saba, I felt a similar change come over me: I was old, mature, grandfatherly. I can now tell a surly mechanic not to shout at somebody with grandkids; I can dawdle a bit longer at the gas pump; I can take an extra scoop of ice cream. I’m a grandfather, by God.
My son had a son – and all of a sudden my view of myself changed.