May 22 • 07:51 PM

Straight talk for granddads

January 30, 2008
Recently an old friend of mine became a grandfather to a bouncing baby boy and I wrote the following letter of advice.

Dear Bob:

Well, congratulations on becoming a grandfather. I have enjoyed that privilege for the past six years and although I haven't learned everything about being a grandfather perhaps a few words of advice might be in order.

Now since your kids have turned out pretty well, I figure you have every right to enjoy your new role. Had you screwed up being a parent I'm not sure you'd be entitled to be a grandfather, but since your progeny have produced a grandson, your status as one is pretty clear and I think you might be pretty good at it. Still, there are a few things you should know.

First, while you may be a parent to your daughter you shouldn't try to be one to young Kyle. Leave the parenting to the parents. I know that's easier said than done. There is a huge temptation to correct all of the things you thought you did wrong as a parent in your grandchildren but your role is different now.

You are a mentor, not a surrogate parent. Part of your job is to spoil your grandchildren. That's the fun part. The hard part is to know when not to interfere with how your daughter and her husband are raising their children. Sure you can help them out now and then when you can but as a mentor your role is much less obvious

Part of it is keeper of the family heritage so to speak. To pass on its traditions, values, the group memory, if you will, to your grandchildren so they will have a sense of not only who they are but where they came from and perhaps, now and then, a sense of where they should go in life.

You as mentor will have the opportunity to teach them a lot of stuff. It could be as simple as teaching your grandson how to bait a hook or build a model airplane. Or it might be, through example, such things as how you treat other people or sharing with them what it was like growing up when you were a kid. By passing on some of the things you learned in life you will be giving your grandchildren the benefit of your experience, which in all probability they won't appreciate until after you're gone.

As much as you will be tempted to shield them from life's dangers you can't protect them from everything, but you can be there when they need you. Perhaps it might be explaining to them the rules of behavior their parents have decided they should follow or how to bridge the gap between their generation and yours.

Possibly your role might be nothing more than patiently listening to their problems and offering your sympathy when it's needed. As they grow older you might want to take them on special trips and adventures which they will remember in years to come, filing them away to share with their children.

One of the special rewards of being a grandparent is watching your grandchildren discover the world around them. To share that sense of wonderment as they discover the simple mysteries of life and no doubt ask you questions like, "Why is the sky blue?"

Another way to do this is by reading to them. No doubt you will be asked to read their favorite stories over and over again and if you should miss one part they will be sure to remind you.

I never really knew my grandfather, but I do recall my father reading to me as a youngster. One of the stories he read was the 'Adventures of Robin Hood' and I remember crying at the end when Robin Hood died. There were other stories of course, and many of them I made sure to share with my own children. So as a grandfather you will be able to do the same, and like me, when you visit a bookstore no doubt you will pick up a book for your grandson, and perhaps make sure they have copies of the favorite books of your childhood.

So, my good friend, enjoy being a grandfather. By sharing yourself with your grandchildren you will be giving them a special gift and a whole truckload of memories they will no doubt pass on to their children. At our age it's about the closest thing to immorality that we are going to find.

Email Eric at

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Milnes Ford
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