Reflections on being a grandfather
June 15, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) - T. H. Huxley, for whom evolution provided both his religion and his family tree, asserted repeatedly that, “a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather.” Whereas it may be said that I have occasionally “gone ape” over my dozen grandchildren, all bona fide human beings, I must assert rather decisively that I am proud to not be an ape. I much prefer being a “grandfather.” Despite its suggestion of advanced age, it does ratify my humanity as well as granting me a special place in history. Man is the only animal who knows his grandchildren.
Father’s Day takes on a very special significance for those of us who are fathers of fathers. I have two sons who are fathers, thus perpetuating the noble title of fatherhood within my family. It is a humbling thought that one’s children can endow their dad more than once with that honorific title of “father.” It has been said that great fathers get promoted to grandfathers. I am not sure of the first accolade, but I will accept the second. The Holy Father has been called “the grandfather of the world.” It is a fitting title since he superintends the family of man while at the same time remaining intimately united to it in love and responsibility.
Pope Benedict XVI has stated that grandfathers “offer the little ones the perspective of time; they are the memory and heritage of families. In no way should they ever be excluded from the family circle. They are a treasure that the younger generation should not be denied, especially when they bear witness to their faith at the approach of death.” Having a grandfather is being twice blessed, for it includes one’s father as well as one’s father’s father.
I recall being asked once by a disconsolate man whether he was still a grandfather since his son, the father of the grandchildren, is now divorced. Divorce, of course, does not dissolve generational lines, though it may greatly weaken one’s sense of being a grandfather. In a world of broken relationships the need for intergenerational ties becomes all the more important. We live in a throwaway society, where products have built-in obsolescence, and most human relationships are as lasting as soap bubbles. Change for change sake seems to be self-justifying. Without a sense of continuity, however, children are vulnerable to trends and fashions. They are concerned not with what is right and what is wrong, but with what is “hot” and what is not. They can easily be captured by the reigning ideologies of the day.
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The grandfather has lived long enough to know how shallow and ephemeral fads can be. His role is to impart a higher wisdom. He is concerned about the things that nourish and endure: faith, love, beauty and one’s eternal destiny. He has survived fads and his words come from a life that has not been lived from impulses of the moment. He may have silver in his hair, but he has gold in his heart.
Grandfatherhood is not only an honor, it is also a paradox. When a man begins to feel old, his grandchildren can make him feel young again. An hour with one’s grandchildren can be rejuvenating; but any longer than that, it must be noted, it can be debilitating. It is a paradox tinged with poignancy. As the sands of time flow from the upper region of the hourglass, they fill the lower half. Advancing age is redeemed by emerging life. Thereby, life is not diminished. Time is not wasted. Sacrifices are not in vain.
And so, I will proudly accept the title of grandfather, a title shared by clocks and clauses, those apt and enduring symbols of time and antiquity. And, contrary to Mr. Huxley’s view of evolution, I will boast that I have evolved from a lad to a man, a husband to a father, and finally to a grandfather. At the summit of life, the view is certainly grand.
Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. He is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He writes for the Truth and Charity Forum, where this article first appeared.