On 8-8-08 I was in a meeting with my biggest client, who had imported two “professional cost cutters” from General Motors. They boasted that they had cut tens of millions of “waste” from GM’s vendors and gave me to understand that I had no chance against their beady-eyed expertise in reducing a vendor’s profits to dog poop.
My secretary called me out of the meeting to tell me that my wife was on the phone and it was urgent. Our daughter had gone into labor and I’d ROB better exit the meeting. I returned to the conference room and, beaming, informed my new best friends that they could take their expertise and put it where the sun don’t shine. I was going to be a grandad!
Jane was born that night looking, as most infants do, like Winston Churchill after a particularly gaseous dinner.
Grandparents the world over understand their job. Be the good cop, the one who spoils, teach the children a thing or two from your geezer perspective – and then go home. Leave the real work to the parents. I wasn’t ready to be called grandad, so I became Robbie and my wife, who proclaimed she was born for this role, went with Nana.
There’s no manual on how to be a good grandparent. We make it up as we go along, right? For example, I figured I better try to get Jane’s brain whirring when she was a toddler so I invented two games: “Halt!” and “The Cane Game.” The former took advantage of a toddler’s perpetual motion. Jane would run around the dining room table until she reached my chair whereupon I would stick out my arm and, in my best military voice, shout, “Halt!”
I would then ask a question such as, “What’s the name of my brother?” Only when she answered correctly was she permitted to trundle around for another lap. “The Cane Game” in- volved creative uses of a walking cane. We’d pass the cane back and forth, inventing uses for it. Turned upside down, the cane became a hobby horse. A cane upside down with your foot in it was a stirrup. Hey, feel free to use these games, no charge.
Jane has an anxious side to her that once manifested itself in her dividing DVDs of mov- ies into two piles: “scary” and “not scary.” Well-known “Exorcist”-type movies such as “Cinderella” and “Clue” resided in the scary pile.
Jane is also my running mate at our river house. A couple of years ago, I took Jane, her mom, her friend and her daughter on a boat ride. The boat broke down about a half-mile offshore in ten feet of water. I took a tow line, jumped in the water and proceeded to urge the boat to shore. No one was in danger, but I kept an anxious eye on Jane, who, to my relief, was chatting and laughing with her buddy.
That was the beginning of her long hiatus on boat riding. She explained that laughing and chatting was how she dealt with stress. Happily, she’s back on board now. For years, we have performed perimeter checks of our property and that of our neighbors each morning we’re in situ. We report in a SitRep our findings to mostly disinterested family members, though they feign keen attention, things such as “The light on the neighbor’s porch was left on overnight.”
A grandparent dreams – and frets – about what kind of person their little darling will become. Will she be a great athlete? A scholar? Win the Nobel Prize? And it’s just about the best thing ever to watch their personalities, strengths and, yes, weaknesses grow.
Jane, for example, is a coordinated girl. But I figured she wasn’t going out for Team USA Soccer after observing her on the pitch as she trotted along contentedly chatting and laughing alongside an opposing player, occasionally lapsing into a faux slow motion movement while paying little attention to the action. She still plays sports, but her real interests lie in singing and musical theater.
One of the joys of my life is giving her birthday and Christmas present tickets to musicals – one for her and one for me. We’ve seen “Hairspray,” “Mean Girls,” “Dear Evan Hanson,” “My Fair Lady” and more. Jane can sing every single lyric to “Hamilton,” including the French parts of Lafayette. Her passion is acting in school plays.
To fellow and future grandparents, I contend that achievements in athletics, academics, social graces and the arts are important – but not the crux of the matter. What’s more important is: Are they a good egg? And did you do your part to help them become so? Simple, right?
The one boast I’ll make is that Jane is a good egg.
The writer is CEO of Williams Whittle Advertising and is the author of two historical novels, “Pointer’s War” and “Pointer and the Russian.”