In March, I will mark an important anniversary — my tenth year as a grandfather. Little did I know how much I would enjoy what I have come to realize is the best job in the world.
I knew neither of my grandfathers. My mother’s father died when she was 11; the state of medicine at the time was such that doctors couldn’t always tell the difference between an upset stomach and appendicitis. My father’s father died when I was nine months old; I relied on my grandmother to tell me stories about him. I had no doubts about how spoiled I would have been had he lived longer.
It was a different world, and at the time of his death I was the only son of an only son. Many times, both my grandmother and father told me the story of how, dying at home, he held on until my family could arrive. He was mostly delirious, and he kept asking for the baby. My father put me on the bed with him, and he smiled. It was enough. A few hours later, he was gone.
We moved away from our hometowns, so what my children saw of their grandparents was limited. Both of their grandfathers were older than the grandmothers and died when my children were still young.
I didn’t have much experience to call upon when my grandson was born. I quickly discovered I didn’t need any. The job and how to do it came naturally. That’s because it’s the grandchildren who teach you how to do it. The most important qualification is simply showing up and being there. You only have to listen and respond accordingly.
Here are 10 reasons why being a grandfather is the best job in the world, as taught by my three grandsons.
(1) You get to be a kid again. You play hide and seek. Backyard baseball. Dinosaurs. Board games. And you rediscover the joys of swings, parks, and stuff kids love to do.
(2) You get to wear funny hats and play with toys, and no one thinks you’re weird. One of my wife’s favorite pictures of me is wearing a knitted monster hat while playing a toy xylophone. You can do this even when the grandkids aren’t around, because you have to test the toys. And Legos!
(3) Your children worry that you’re teaching their children criminal activities. It’s payback time. And there’s no mischief like the mischief created by a grandfather and his grandchildren.
(4) You watch little faces light up whenever they see you. They see you walking in the door, and you immediately hear an ecstatic “Grandpa!” They know fun lies ahead. Your daughter-in-law knows trouble lies ahead.
(5) Your grandkids love the idea of an adult who doesn’t act like an adult. Kids need at least one adult in their lives who isn’t concerned that the world always judges children’s behavior as major moral failings by the parents. Grandfathers shrug off pressure to constantly correct and apologize.
(6) You have a new audience for old jokes. Your children have heard the jokes, at least a dozen times. Not so the grandchildren. You can watch their eyes light up when you teach them nursery rhymes: “Little Miss Muffet / sat on a tuffet, / eating of curds and whey. / Along came a spider / and sat down beside her / and she took off her shoe and beat it to death!” One of my grandsons refers to these as “the real nursery rhymes,” and I won’t tell him anything different.
(7) You have a new audience for old stories. You can read Make Way for Ducklings, Winnie-the-Pooh, Peter Rabbit, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and dozens of other classics to little ears hearing them for the first time. You can also tell stories about how their father got into trouble when he was a boy; they love those stories.
(8) Your grandkids know you’re deliberately losing a board game and they love you for it. Sometimes, it isn’t deliberate.
(9) Your grandkids think it’s hysterical when they beat you at a video game in the first 90 seconds. “Grandpa, don’t you know anything about Sonic the Hedgehog?”
(10) Your grandkids discover that at least one adult loves them unconditionally, no matter what they do, and never yells at them when they do something wrong or stupid. In fact, sometimes (speaking for a friend) grandfathers and grandchildren get into trouble at the same time. Partners in crime!
And a bonus reason: Grandkids give you all kinds of new stories to tell.
You know what you’re doing, of course. You’re pouring fun and adventures into your grandchildren. You’re giving them a connection to past lives, the family members they’ll never know. You’re telling them they matter, just for being who they are. And you’re giving them memories that will come back when they have their own grandchildren, and you’re no longer around to recite bizarre versions of nursery rhymes.
I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish