My First Grandfather Story

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I have no grandfather stories.

My mother’s father died of a ruptured appendix when she was 12.

My father’s father died when I was nine months old, when my family was preparing to move to Florida. My father had taken a job in Jacksonville and was already working there when he got the call that his dad was failing fast. My father drove like a maniac to New Orleans to get us and then on to Shreveport. By the time we arrived, my grandfather could barely recognize anyone, but he kept asking for the baby. When they placed me on his bed, he touched me and smiled. He died a few hours later.

My father often told that story. It was particularly important for him, as he was something of the family black sheep. It was more his story than mine.

A Sense of Urgency

Although I didn’t have a grandfather around, I never felt deprived; it’s difficult to feel deprived of something that’s never been there. But this year, the idea of “grandfather" took on a kind of urgency for me, because I became one.

Seven months ago, Cameron Andrew Young was born. His middle name connects him to three generations of the family: “Andrew” is my youngest son’s first name and both my father’s and my middle name.

In the months leading up to Cameron’s birth, I had doubts; though I didn’t admit it to anyone, I wondered: How does a grandfather act? What does he do, especially with a baby? Will I be any good at this?

The only grandfathers I had observed in action were my father and father-in-law as grandfathers to my children; but we lived in different cities, and they both died when my children were young. Time with them was short and memories few, so I learned very little from them about this new role I was about to step into.

As the time for Cameron’s birth neared, I thought about it more and more. Even my daughter-in-law, Cameron’s mother, could see that something was bothering me. I found out later that she wondered not only what I was thinking but also if I would be reserved or detached. The reserve she sensed from me stemmed from the haunting question about being a good grandfather.

I was afraid.

No Mentor to Ask

I had no mentor to ask for advice. I did question some friends, but they offered only vague answers like “You'll see” and “It’ll work out.” How-to books on grandparenting are few and far between.

As Cameron’s birth drew near, I realized I was out of resources. I would have to figure out on my own how to be a grandfather.

The night Cameron was born, my wife called me to the delivery room. And there he was. The nurse handed him to me. And there we were.

I stood there on behalf of a long line of grandfathers holding the son of my firstborn son, great-grandson of Glynn Sr., great-great-grandson of James, great-great-great grandson of Samuel, and Franklin before Samuel, and on and on.

As I looked into that little face that was already smiling sweet contentment, I realized that I knew.

I knew that I would sing to him and feed him, walk him and change his diaper, blow raspberries with him and make him laugh with silly faces and noises. I knew that as we both grow older, we’ll enter into conspiracies together and get into trouble with his parents, go to the zoo and laugh at the penguins, take hikes together and share a bag of Skittles. I knew that I’d once again go to Little League baseball games and break into a sweat every time he stepped up to the plate.

In the delivery room that night, I stuck my pinky near his tiny fingers. I felt them clasp and unclasp, like the pulse of a heartbeat.

I had my first grandfather story.

Image by Ann Voskamp. Used with permission. Originally published on October 27, 2010.