These are seven of my grandchildren. Missing is little Ulises, who wasn’t born yet when this picture was made, and Baylee, who was off with her other grandparents. They are the sweetest, smartest, most wonderful grandchildren in the world, and if you doubt me, well, you just have to get used to being wrong.
I feel (and look) way too young to have 9 grandchildren, and even though I had hoped to have a few more years before the grandbabies started arriving, I have to say I love each and every one of them dearly, almost as if they were my own.
And that might be a problem.
I was a single father of a blended family. I don’t normally use these terms because to me, my family was and is exactly that, my family. We don’t need descriptors like ‘step’ and ‘half’ because they are irrelevant; we’re a family. It doesn’t matter what your last name is, or whose genetic material contributed to whom; we’re all members of the Hailey clan. And it is good to have that strong sense of place and belonging. But because I was a single father, I may have developed an overly open interpretation of my role. At the time, I opened my heart to every child in the same way, working to remove any distinctions between the kids. They were all mine, regardless of paternity. Now, I find myself thinking of every child in the family as my child. Clouding the water even more is the fact that some of my grandchildren lived with me and Lissa for extended periods, and the babies bonded with me more than is usual for a grandparent. And I bonded with them as I spent hours walking the halls late at night when Mama needed a break. I even changed a few diapers along the way.
And I’m not complaining; I wouldn’t trade those times for the world, and I would love to spend the same amount of time with the grandbabies who live further away.
But there are times when I find myself slipping into parent mode instead of grandparent mode, and I know that has to be confusing to the grandkids and irritating for my kids. After all, I know if my dad tried to tell me how to raise my kids, or worse, tried to do it himself without going through me first, I would be irritated.
And I was, many times.
Even though he was doing it out of love for them, it was annoying to have him trying to do my job. But I’ve been ‘Dad’ for so long that I tend to slip back into that mode without even thinking about it.
I love being a father. I’ve known since I was very young that I wanted to be a father. Now, no matter what else I do in my life, no matter how lofty or humble my accomplishments, the things I will forever be most proud of are the children I’ve raised. I’m proud, not for what I’ve done, but for what they’ve done, and are doing, and will do. I love watching them grow and mature, and take on life’s challenges. I love when they come to me for advice, and when they tell me to back up, that they’ve got it under control. I love watching them raise their kids, and do the things that I did, and I also love seeing them do things differently because they believe it is better for their kids.
I did the same thing when I raised them; I tried to do better than my parents did for me, not because my parents did a poor job, but because they did a great job, and I wanted to do even better for my kids.
Last year, my kids got together and gave me a tremendous present for Father’s Day. It was a pocket watch that came in an engraved box, which read “It takes a great father to be a grandfather.” I keep it on my dresser and look at it often. Like I said, I tried to do my best for the kids, but I know I came up short too many times to count. For them to give me that gift let me know that I didn’t screw up too badly.
But even with the self doubt and the mistakes, the lost sleep, the endless hours of soccer and football, not to mention trading the Mustang for a minivan, I love being a father. In fact, I love the job so much that it is hard for me to give it up. And some times, I may push too hard or go too far, overstepping my boundaries. Not because my kids aren’t good parents, but just because I want to help. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m Papaw, not Dad, and that my daughters have found some pretty wonderful dads to make and raise babies. My son has fallen in love with his son the same way I did with him so many years ago, and his wife couldn’t be any better of a mother. My kids are great parents, and I have to remember to back off a bit and let them be great parents.
So to my children, I say “I love you, you are doing a wonderful job, and if I get out of line, feel free to tell me. I’ll understand. But if you need me for anything, all you have to do is ask.” And to my grandchildren, I say “Papaw loves you very very very much much! And yes, you can play on my computer. Papaw’s done writing for now.”