Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Grandfather Clause” first appeared in the January/February 2008 issue of Touchstone.
Annegret Hunter on Grumpy Old Men & Their Grandchildren
I wonder sometimes, what they teach these days. My granddaughter does not even know how to lay a table. Imagine, a teenager! Her mother never taught her,” remarks an unhappy friend. “Why don’t you do it?” I say. She gasps: “Oh no, I would never do that. My daughter-in-law would not allow it.”
“What could she possibly have against that?” I counter, astonished. “Just take the girl aside and show her. You are the grandmother.”
My friend shakes her head grimly. “I would never see my granddaughter again.” She drops her voice and painfully goes on: “It already happened with my son. Oh, he takes good care of me, financially, but I am never invited. Haven’t seen his children in years.”
Old Mr. T. has heard the last remarks, nods sadly, and turns away. A few years ago, he used to tell me proudly that he would visit his son and family in the summer, and it changed from “Maybe next year” into “I’ll be around this summer.”
“I gave my child the choice to pick her religion,” once said another friend, also very vocal on another pro-choice issue: “Had that been available when I was young, I would not be a mother now.”
When I met up with her years later, she told me, “I refused to do cheap childcare for a daughter who only wanted money from me, so we lost touch. I went by their place the other day, on a lark. My daughter wasn’t in, her kids were. Adults now, strangers. I said, ‘Hey, you don’t know me, but I’m your grandmother!’ They just gawked, didn’t say a word, so I left.” She laughed, a brittle sound, and bitter.
The saddest truth of all is the fact that, only too often, the grandparents supported their children into what they became.
The Grandfather’s Mystery
My father was cut off from his own son’s children, a very painful event, though he never mentioned it. When his second grandson, our first offspring, arrived, there was an ocean between us, and half a year went by before the initial encounter.
We dreaded it. Our bundle of joy turned out to be extremely sensitive to noises, and when startled—a loud laugh might set him off—he would throw up his arms and howl at the top of his well-developed lungs, and it took a long time to calm him down. This made for a very quiet house, where I would stiffen when my well-beloved clanked the cutlery too energetically, and he would go for a walk with the little spoilsport so I could use the vacuum cleaner and rattle the pots.
Then my father announced his arrival. Since he was a big, severe, quite humorless, no-nonsense man with an unfortunately loud voice, we instantly turned into nervous wrecks. “What shall we do?” we whispered.
When the desperate day dawned, I decided despondently to greet him at the door with the baby in my arm. If the world had to explode into shrieks and roars, we might as well get it over with fast.
I open the door, and there stands my father. He has eyes only for his grandson, drops his suitcase, and booms out: “Sooo, is this my big, beautiful little boy?” I feel the child tense, but he bends forward to inspect the bearer of the mighty voice, and, as his parents freeze, erupts into gales of delighted laughter and stretches out his arms towards his grandfather.
Much later I recognized that moment for what it was: love at first sight, unconditional and unshakable on one side, adoring and happy on the other. And this recognition in turn helped me later to understand the mystery of God’s love. How, as the Father, could he still love me, when yet again I fell short of expectations, was nasty and complaining and very selfish? But that unqualified grandfatherly kind of love let me discern and comprehend better the luminous love of the Lord.
My father did not see his far-away grandsons often, and that made the times they could spend together even more enchanted. He introduced them to the most important delights, like swings, and high-speed stroller rides, and chocolate, and real castles.
The Grandson’s Plea
After a series of debilitating strokes and the loss of everything he treasured, my father decided on one last independent action: He refused to eat. To my sister’s and my pleas and tears he would only close his eyes and pretend to sleep.
We did not know what to do, when my youngest, who had been quietly playing in a corner, climbed up onto the bed and gently caressed the sunken old cheeks, and begged: “Grandpa, oh Grandpa, you’ve got to eat. You’ve simply got to. Please don’t die; you can’t die. Look, I’m here.” He took his grandfather’s hand, turned it over and put a piece of chocolate into it. “Here, eat this. It will make you strong. Please, you must eat.”
And Grandpa, never taking his eyes off the lad, slowly, slowly lifted his hand to his mouth and ate the chocolate. Then he smiled shyly, bowed his head, and put out his hand again. He had chosen life, although at that time he did not realize what that meant.
There were a few more years and a few more visits, and at the last one before his death, my father, finally in a wheelchair, particularly enjoyed being pushed by his grandson—rather too fast, I thought, and stopped this madness. “Aw,” protested my son, “Grandpa likes it that way.” “And how do you know?” I asked, and stepped back before the withering look my father cast on me.
They spent a happy time together, roaring about the paths in the park, the boy urged on to run faster by his Grandpa’s banging vigorously on the armrest. Then he would close his eyes and savor the speed and the laughter and shouts of his grandson.
Recently my well-beloved mentioned, out of the blue, that it would be so nice to become a grandfather. “You are too young,” I snap, “and furthermore . . .” “Yes, yes,” he sighs, “but wouldn’t it be wonderful?” For what, exactly, is he yearning? He has been a most fabulous father, but a dad’s love is full of worries and cares. It is true that a grandfather does not have those problems.
I find illumination in the Book of Proverbs: “Children’s children are the crown of old men.” That explains all.
Annegret Hunter recovered after homeschooling two boys and was pleased to discover she was still a Christian, a wife, and a bookbinder. Her husband Graeme is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
“Grandfather Clause” first appeared in the January/February 2008 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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