I’ve written a lot about the importance of grandmothers in the wake of my mother’s death and my children’s subsequent loss, but I think it’s just as important to acknowledge the role that grandfathers play in their grandchildren’s lives.
The best way I could describe my father with my children when they were babies was awkward. He would hold them for a minute or two, and then promptly given them back to me, holding their little dangling bodies away from his as if they were live grenades that might explode at a moment’s notice.
When they were toddlers, he was equally befuddled by their age-appropriate temper tantrums. I recall him telling my then four-year-old to “buck up” and get back on her bike or we were going to leave her there on the sidewalk a mile from our house because we had imminent dinner reservations.
But as my little girls have morphed into young ladies, his interaction with them has also morphed into a loving connection. Don’t get me wrong, he was not a warm and fuzzy father when I was growing up, so I have no expectations of him being a warm and fuzzy grandfather, but he offers my girls something completely unique.
They are at once intimidated by and fascinated by his seemingly old-world demand for respect, manners and decorum. When he is around they follow rules, speak more respectfully, and thank him profusely for simple gifts like a T-shirt or a silver dollar magically pulled from behind their ears. It’s as if the General has suddenly decided to visit the base and they hop into immediate military formation.
They worry about him: Can Pop Pop walk that far with his bad knee? Can Pop Pop see from here? They are simultaneously amused by him and sometimes a little afraid. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, telling them when he disagrees with them or does not approve of their behavior.
On one recent visit he took pictures of the wrong child in my daughter’s choral concert because his eyes aren’t the sharpest. That gave the girls a good laugh, especially after his stringent and sarcastic protests that the other child had the same hairstyle and the lighting was low.
But my girls are just so proud that he wants to come see them sing or swim. They enjoy sharing their activities with him, and seek his approval for their accomplishments.
It’s been truly amazing to see how my father has taken on the role of “Pop Pop” not only with my children, but with my sister’s two young children as well. In some ways, the awkwardness of a man and a little girl lingers - the same awkwardness he probably had with me as a child.
But barrel through that façade, and there is a strong man with a soft heart who wants nothing more than to pull a silver dollar from behind his granddaughter’s ear and see her squeal with delight.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.