A year ago I became a grandfather for the first time and I am still in a daze about it. It is over thirty years since I became a father. I loved it at the time but I have no desire to go through it again. Being a grandfather is, however, completely different, I am glad to say.
I did not know either of my grandfathers, they both died before I was born. I got to know both my grandmothers but did not experience that special male bond with them. My father knew his grandsons but I was not aware, from him, of how special that relationship could be. I was buried in my own efforts to be a good father and did not notice what else was going on.
Much of the writing on GMP is about fatherhood, and rightly so, but for my generation grandfatherhood (is that a word?) is far more potent. Capturing what is special about this generational minefield is important for me. It will be different for everyone but for me the essential points are as follows.
(As I elaborate I am talking about the male relationship of grandfather, father/son and son/grandson. I have not referred to the many mothers that are also part of this family picture not because they do not matter, they do, but because I want to focus on the repetitive nature of the flow of generations, in this case, down the male line.)
This is not a second opportunity to get it right
It’s strange because you — your life goes so swiftly. You look up one day you’re a teenager, the next day you’re a grandfather and you want to decide, ‘I sure hope my kids don’t make the same mistakes.’
We all make mistakes as fathers, I know I made many. The problem is that we are not always aware, at the time, what the mistakes are. As I had more children I got better at being a father, but as I had only two, I did not get very far.
It was only when my boys grew up that I realised many of the mistakes I made and understood what I could have done to be a better father. How many of us think that if only we could do it all again we would get it right this time. I know what I would do differently and I think I know what the end result would be.
Becoming a grandfather would seem to be great opportunity to put this into action. I realise that it is not. You have had your turn and the result is there in front of you. Now it is his turn and if you want to keep a good relationship with your son you need to understand this.
This is a time to renew your relationship with your son
It’s interesting that I had such a close relationship with my grandfather. Because your parents always judge you: they say, ‘You shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that.’ But with your grandparents you have a feeling that you can say anything or you can do anything, and they will support you. That’s why you have this kind of connection.
I have found an amazing opportunity to get to know my son better, as a father and a son. Inevitably sons grow away from their fathers, especially during their twenties and thirties. Fatherhood is a great time of change for a man and a time for taking a longer view of life.
As a grandfather you can take this opportunity to show him that things can be different, that you can be different. You can show through your relationship with your grandson how much you love your son, now as a father. I have found the ability to relate on a completely different level. I can show how I can, and want to, be supportive. Most of all I have found it is a great time to open up conversations about my experience of being a father.
For me this is a totally new and enlightening conversation.
This is a time to see the flow through the generations
When you’re all singing together, it brings things together. I know the songs that my grandfather and my father sang.
I have two images that I look at often, at the moment, one is an image of my father, me and my two sons, the other is of me me, my sons and my grandson. I love seeing the flow through four generations.
There are the physical similarities that everyone notices straight away. There
is also the flow of energy through the male line, the sense of strength and love that balance each other.
They are powerful images that sit as centre point in the flow back through previous generations and will flow forward through future generations. Generational energy is important in understanding how issues and problems re-appear unexpectedly. I have done a lot of Family Constellation work in the last few years to clear out the accumulation of negative energy. I am now ready to do some more of this work to clear the male line of issues for my grandson.
You don’t have to take part, but it is good to
More and more, when I single out the person out who inspired me most, I go back to my grandfather.
—James Earl Jones
The great thing about being a grandfather is that it is totally your choice whether, and how much, you get involved. As a father you really have no choice, he is yours and you really need to get involved. As a grandfather you are not necessary, but you are important.
I love the quote from James Earl Jones about being inspired by your grandfather. This is the golden nugget that lies there waiting for you to pick up. You can be inspiring precisely because you do not need to be involved. When you choose to you bring something deep to the relationship and something unique.
You need to let go and not interfere
My grandfather was a man, when he talked about freedom, his attitude was really interesting. His view was that you had obligations or you had responsibilities, and when you fulfilled those obligations or responsibilities, that then gave you the liberty to do other things.
It is good to be clear about who you are and what you think is important in life. Clarence Thomas received views that were important in his development from his grandfather. This comes, in my view, because you step back and do not interfere in the grandson’s upbringing.
You show him, for example, how to be a man by how you are a man. People learn from seeing others in action and from experiencing their energy. This is especially true in this male relationship across the generations.
You no longer are in the position of teaching the boy how to grow, that is the father’s job, but you are in a position of great influence. I feel that you can only be in this position if you let go of the need to control how the boy grows up.
You can always hand him back
I have a ranch in Montana, but it’s not a real working ranch. I’ve always liked the outdoors. I come from Texas. My grandfather was a farmer; that’s as close as I come.
I love holding my grandson and entertaining him. I love trying out the techniques I learned as a father for calming him down when he cries. the most important thing I love is that I can just hand him back when he gets too noisy.
It is good to be able to look after him, it is also great fun. I have found that when I do this it gives my son and his partner time to do odd jobs that are difficult with a baby around. But no matter how helpful, there is always a time to hand him back. I am grateful for that.
You can boast about him
There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandson.
I have his picture as the home screen on my phone. I love showing him off to anyone who cares to look. I feel proud of myself and of my son. It says something about what I have achieved in life — a family.
I am sure I have a great deal more to learn about the joys of grandfatherhood — I hope so.
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