Journaling Through Relationships — Grandfathers 4

“My grandfather always said that living is like licking honey off a thorn.” 
― Louis Adamic

GRANDFATHERS — We don’t write much about them, or at least I don’t see much about them in the stories I read. Why is that? Do they not take up much space in our lives?

The stereotypical grandfather is a wise, though somewhat cranky individual, who observes what’s going on around him, offering sage advice and instruction only when asked. He has a workshop in which he tinkers; perhaps he makes dollhouses or birdhouses or wooden toys. While Grandmother hands out hugs and cookies, Grandfather hands out quarters and tells stories for entertainment.

And while that stereotype may contain a kernel of truth, grandfathers are as diverse in their expressions of life and relationships as anyone, and generalizations based on gender are problematic. Your grandfather may have grown up in a traditional home during a time when most women stayed home and took care of the children and most men were the sole support of their families. For many of these men, who missed a great deal of their children’s lives due to work or travel, grandfathering is experienced as a second chance of sorts. And they enjoy involving themselves in their grandchildren’s lives.

Still, grandfathers tend to take a backseat to grandmothers, especially when we are young.

Some grandfathers are not involved at all. This doesn’t mean they don’t impact us and our relationships in important ways.

My father’s father passed away long before I was born. And my mother’s father was a mean alcoholic who once stabbed my little brother in the hand with a fork when he reached for the last piece of meat without asking. I was terrified of my grandfather, though I probably needn’t have been. Even as a child, I suspected that underneath the stern exterior he was soft as a kitten, afraid of his own vulnerability. And he greatly affected my life, in spite of his not being present much in it.

My mother adored him, as he always supported her young ambitions and fought for her right to go to college at a time when higher education was considered superfluous for women.  And though she adored him, she recognized the problems that his drinking had brought to her family. As a result, my mother rarely drank any alcohol except, perhaps, a polite sip of wine from time to time. And so, my mother and I both grew up wary of alcoholism, steering clear of men who drank too much.


Journaling Prompts

  • Who were your grandfathers? Describe their daily lives, their demeanors and personalities.
  • Were your grandfathers active in your life or on the sidelines? In what ways?
  • What were your grandfathers’ attitudes toward life and how did they reveal these attitudes?
  • What was the greatest lesson or lessons learned from your grandfathers? What is a favorite quote or saying of one of your grandfathers? How does this quote tie in with the life lesson?
  • As a child, how did you feel about your grandfathers? How did your feelings change as you grew older?
  • Perform a creative cluster using the word “grandfather” as the nucleus. Then freewrite for a few minutes, incorporating some of the words, images, and ideas that emerged in the cluster.
  • Describe your ideal of what a grandfather should be. Where did this ideal come from?
  • How do you think your grandfather’s actions, personality, and presence (or lack of presence) affected your relationships with other men?
  • If there was one thing you could change about your relationship with your grandfather, what would that be?
  • Write a letter to your grandfather in which you share your feelings for him.


I invite you to share your response to one of the prompts above.


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4 thoughts on “Journaling Through Relationships — Grandfathers

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    Thanks for the reflective prompts to use in journaling about grandfathers. My paternal grandfather passed away long before I was before. All I know of him is what little I’ve ascertained from distant relatives. My father spoke little about his father because the pain in losing him was a deep hurt that my father had difficulty expressing. My stepgrandfather was a savory old coot whom my mother warned me by saying, “Never be alone with THAT MAN!” I’d later learn that he had a sorted past–was a murderer and thief. Why my grandmother married him is a mystery that was buried when she passed. My maternal grandfather, however, was the stereotypical sage who spoke little; his wise words have stayed with me. He had his peculiarities (like not watching TV), tinkered in his shed, and spent hours communicating with his ham (sp) radio. I thought he was like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, behind a curtain performing magical tricks. He had a high IQ and, therefore, didn’t tolerate nonsense in thought or behavior….I could go on, but I won’t. But thanks for the opportunity to reflect and share 🙂

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Sara, thank you for sharing about your grandfathers. I love the image of the grandfather as wizard (don’t look behind the curtain), and what a mystery about your stepgrandfather. It says something about your grandmother. Perhaps she had a wild side, drawn to the bad boys when she was younger.

  • Marian Beaman

    Amber, I was drawn to your website from Kathy Pooler’s blog. My WIP, now in the final editing stages, is a memoir of my Mennonite life in Lancaster County, PA. I wouldn’t label Mennonites as strictly fundamentalists, rather an intriging sub-culture. I cherish the values in my life with rigid boundaries. However, I have moved beyond that now.

    Your “grandfather” vignette is vivid and unforgettable. I saw the face of God in the women in my family but had an adversarial relationship with my God-fearing but abusive father.

    The Louis Adamic quote is priceless!

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Marian, welcome and thank you for joining the conversation :-). I look forward to reading your memoir when it is published, so please do keep us informed as to its progress. And yes, I thought so too (about the Adamic quote).