I recently asked new Grandpa, Scott Anderson of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, to share a few thoughts on what advice he may have for his children as they enter the world of parenting. Here are his words to share:
Comes the question: “As a new grandfather, what advice do you have for your sons as they become dads?”
Aside from the wise-ass (“Move back to Chicago so we can see our granddaughter more!”), I start here: “Take inventory of how you were raised, and your relationships with both your mom and me, and chart your course form there.”
And if you need help or advice along the way, just ask.
For the record, no, that does not mean “we were perfect, so just do what we did!” Although in all, I think both sons would, now that they are older and wiser, say we did pretty well. As do we.
I’m a devout believer in “learn by doing” and “learn by example.”
And sometimes it’s really the flaws and mistakes from which you derive the most wisdom.
In all candor, that was what in many ways motivated me as a dad – the flaws of my own father as a father – and a compulsion to not repeat as many as possible.
I will be in some ways ever grateful for those flaws, of which there were more than a few, because I ultimately drew from them the blueprint of how not to do things and how I would approach being a very different father to our sons.
This is not about father-bashing and woe-was-me and there will be none; it was what it was as far as my father is concerned and I’ve been able to make peace with that over time. We all have our demons, missteps and failings. His died with him in 1986 at a ridiculously young age.
For me, the Flaws of the Father were in contrast to the Goodness of the Grandfathers.
If I could summon two people from The Great Beyond that I’d most like to spend time with now as an adult, my two grandfathers – Russell and Columbo — would near the very top of the list.
With their comforting attention, persistent presence and seemingly unconditional love, my grandfathers filled a hole in my heart and psyche that my father really wasn’t able to during my formative years. (Both grandfathers died in my early teens, nine months apart).
It wasn’t until much later in life when when I could emotionally triangulate my grandfathers against my father, and the relationship that we had in those formative years, that I could fully appreciate the foundational importance, impact and gifts of my grandfathers.
No, they were not perfect. And I’m sure the Flaws of Their Fathers weighed on each of my parents, too, and contributed to what would become, good and bad.
They were fine role models in many ways for what a grandfather should be – as well as important traits for fathers. And so they made putting together the Grandpa Playbook I’ve got ready for my tiny granddaughter pretty easy.
One more bit of advice is also tied to on of the grandfathers — my paternal one, Russell.
Let it Be by the Beatles was his favorite song. He’d long had his demons with booze but vanquished them in the end and found something of a Zen in his last years. He learned there was still a light that shined on him. He learned he could, indeed, Let it Be.
So that song has a very special place in my heart and a meaning well beyond the effect it already had on 12-year-old me when I heard it again and again on Boston’s WRKO radio in 1970.
It’s a song of comfort and hope and calm that promises there will be answer when you need one.
As devout fourth-generation Beatles fans, I’m pretty sure Let it Be already has a place in both of my son’s lives.
As for my grandfathers, for whom my heart still aches:
“For though they may be parted
“There is still a chance that they will see
“There will be an answer, let it be”