“Grandpa Kev” Just Doesn’t Sound Right

by Kevin Burton

   My wife drove like a grandma ever before she was one.

   I said this to her in person long before I said it to you in print and I assured her it was no putdown. In fact I mean it as the highest of compliments.

   What does a grandma drive like anyway?

   A grandma drives like someone who has something to live for. 

   Tomorrow is Grandparents Day. I got the word from a desk calendar at work. This is not one of your great big, rearrange the store kind of holidays, but it makes the list.

   President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation on Aug. 3, 1978 establishing Grandparents Day as first Sunday after Labor Day each year. So here we are.

   What’s so grand about being a grandparent? I asked my wife Jeannette.

   “I love every minute of it,” she said. “It’s different from being a parent because you don’t have 24/7 responsibility.  You get to spoil them, but not too much.”

   “From the first time I got to hold her in my arms and that little hand reached up and grasped my hair I fell in love with her,” Jeannette said.

   Actually grabbed her hair?

   “I had to take her hands,” Jeannette said demonstrating how she had to pry granddaughter Willow’s fingers open to get her hair released. “She was a strong little girl.”

   “What about you, you’re a grandparent,” she asked.


   Well it has taken me a while to feel like one. Not sure I do even now. I always thought in order to be a grandpa you had to be a father first. 

   I never had children, never had any desire to be a father. I never wanted the responsibility and thought I would be lousy at the job.  Reproducing myself always seemed like a really bad idea.

    I don’t mean to sound like a Frank Sinatra song here, but I’ve been a mentor, tutor and teacher (classroom and Sunday School), a coach and a cat daddy, but never a father.

   But when my wife’s son had a daughter with his then wife I became a grandpa of sorts.  But it feels like I entered through a side door. 

   A grandpa is a patriarch, king of the family empire, a shaper of vacations, menus and destinies.

   I am like some guy that was claimed off waivers.

    How does the new phrase go? It’s complicated.

   If you observe the way I interact with Willow, I seem more like a crazy uncle. I guess that should be crazy great uncle.

   For one thing I don’t do discipline. I give verbal support to my wife as she does the discipline.

   I will remind Willow that she is doing more talking than eating, but Jeannette is the one who says she has to eat some more green beans.    

   For now I qualify as a cool crazy great uncle because I play music.  But in a few years, when Willow enters middle school she will be even more sophisticated than she is already. Who knows how I will rate by then. 

   I wish I had on video, the time we were in the music area trading songs and she got to wailing on some song she called “Thunder.” She was rocking out to the max, quite likely in imitation of me. 

   Doesn’t that sound more like a cool great uncle?

   I have a friend in Michigan who is exactly the category of grandparent that I am, in terms of by marriage, one grandchild (so far) and the marriage that produced that child broke up.

   She embraces the grandparent role more than I do. She is more of a natural nurturer.  Her grandson calls her “Nana.” Willow calls me “Kevin.”

   I deliver hugs but I’m more at ease delivering one-liners.

   Did I say complicated?  Now my stepson lives with a woman who has two children of her own. What is the upper limit on how many grandchildren a guy can have without having been a father?

   Honestly, once you have changed the channel from ESPN and other topics get involved, I don’t have too many answers. 

   So tomorrow I will accept an honorable mention as a grandpa.  With my ongoing on-the-job training, I may grow into the role. Stranger things have happened.

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