The Epistle of Q — Chapter Ninety-Nine

Sometimes it’s hard being a Grandpa…

I love being a Grandpa… I like the word, I like the title! It does not make me feel old; in fact, it actually honours my culture, my family. My own Grandpa was an esteemed gentleman and I often wish he was still around. And I’m going to tell you why in a moment.

I first must tell you why I never opted for Grandad – because I did have a very special Grandad who lived long enough to see me well into my vocational life as a consultant. He was a brown-dirt cowboy, he gave me my first paying summer job, and he was very wise even though he probably didn’t get much beyond Grade II in school. He taught me a great deal. Yet I never saw him as a role model – rather I saw him as a very unique individual: a one off that should always be respected, but couldn’t be copied or even emulated. So he remains the only Grandad in my clan or lineage.

Why do I wish that Grandpa was still here (though to do so would make him about 160!!) Is that he had good advice whenever he was asked. My regret is that I didn’t ask him often enough and when I really needed some thoughtful guidance, he was suffering from hardening of the arteries in his brain and so was no longer the paragon of intellectual insight. I grew up in a home where education was highly valued – we all knew that we would never stop school at Grade XII. But I also knew that I was expected to be an independent thinker: choose my own path and live it to the fullest. That kind of upbringing served me well and I appreciate it every day. However it has come with a couple of caveats that I have really only come to appreciate lately.

While both parents were professionally trained and educated in paths that they had sought out and chosen well before finishing their high school education, they never spent much time talking to me about what my vocational ambition might be. From an early age I had thought about becoming a Presbyterian minister – a theologian to be more precise. I would go to university until I have obtained a Th.D. degree. The irony is that I never thought much beyond that and I certainly didn’t give much thought about whether that was the best choice I could make. I couldn’t discuss this with Grandpa and I never really conversed with Dad about it either. As a matter of reflection, I’m not even sure if he approved or was proud of that choice. It just seemed to unfold and in the end it was a short-lived career path — doubtless for the benefit of all.

Nevertheless, I must admit that I have had a good life. Moreover, I did obtain a doctoral degree a few years after the originally targeted moment; and, my vocational journey (as I am chronicling in the book I am almost finished writing – it’s in its Penultimate Draft!!) has been exciting, rewarding, amazing and even fruitful. But did the path I took really reflect the best choices and could I have been more successful, with more rewards, experienced greater excitement and amazement? If I had reached out for advice, input and feedback early in my high school years might I have found a path with fewer off-ramps, less downsides, more intriguing forward movement? That is the question that now confronts me.

But, you say, life has been lived, sit back and enjoy where you are. You can’t re-do it now, especially at your age. That is true. But what about my Grandkids – might they not benefit from my wisdom, my experiences, my reflections on the paths and opportunities missed? Certainly I have wondered about whether I gave my own children enough advice although I did support their choices as best I could and I made sure that they got to the end of the training needed re the professional roads they ultimately determined to take. They are both very successful and I think have made significant contributions to their worlds. And if they ever ask for my advice, even now I believe I give them thoughtful and useful reflective counsel. But maybe I was too busy in my own world to be as helpful as I could have been. Might I have been more helpful in getting them more quickly to their vocational ambitions? I often wonder…

And that brings me to my current dilemma. I do spend more time reflecting and analysing choices these days, in large part because of the book (mentioned earlier). And my Grandkids are now moving forward with their lives and futures. I actually took the side of my eldest Grandson when he wanted to choose technical training in a trade rather than going to college. Not sure his father appreciated my stance, but I was pretty sure that the kid was more a hands on learner and had been from the get-go. He is now in apprenticeship training and doing well and enjoying it. My Grand-daughter’s vocational choice needed less intervention as she knew she wanted to be in education and she chose a smaller institution. Should she want advice, even about which university to go to after she completes her BA, she knows she can contact me. As it is I provide her with education magazines and other professional journals to allow her to develop her own professional library as she grows through her learning moment.

As for the AZ Grandsons, I almost fell into the trap of trying to give too much advice. In each of them I see a bit of me. In each of them, there is that long-time focus (their’s is hockey rather than theology). In each of them lies a percolating brain. Because I am not sure they are NHL bound I guess I have been tempted to give them occasional thoughtful advice about thinking outside the box. Because I myself moved from a super-sized university (chosen initially because it was somewhat of a familial tradition) to a smaller school where there was more chance to be totally involved (that school eventually became bigger, but I was able to grow with it), I think I see the benefits in one’s undergraduate education to try to find a place where one will be a person, will meet real people with similar life goals.

This week I’ve come to an eureka moment. After contemplating how to influence at least a couple of the guys, I suddenly realized that Grandpas are here to listen and respond, not guide and direct. These boys parents both have Master’s degrees. They have attended more than one university. They have had to examine their own professional journey on numerous occasions. They know the value of advice. They can make decisions (and have done so many times) and they also know how to ask for advice. If they need help, because there are three all going off to university about the same time, they know how to reach me. Likewise, the kids have my toll-free phone line. They know how to raise questions. As much as I think I know about post-secondary education, and as much as I think I know about vocational choosing, the real opportunity for Grandpa is in sitting back and wait for someone to ask for reflective thinking. Each kid must be given the unfettered opportunity to choose her/his vocational road. They need to have that freedom, along with the freedom and knowledge to seek out external advice as they wish as well as they need. Parents likewise need to have that freedom. Grandpas need to be open to any requests, but they need also to be aware of lines that ought not to be crossed.

It’s hard sometimes being a Grandpa – but at least I’ve got to that wonderful place in life when I am a Grandpa (and I’m proud of it!!).