“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.
- 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.