From the Gospel according to John:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – John 14:27-29 (NRSV) – April 29, 2014.)
My mind really isn’t on the scriptures this morning . . . except this idea of being informed of something before it occurs, so that when it does occur, one will be ready to accept it.
A few weeks ago our son and daughter-in-law told us that they are expecting, but swore us to secrecy, forbade us from telling anyone until the news was “FBO” (“Facebook official”), and then told us their plans for telling various people and when it would be public. They put their FBO announcement on his page last night. Of course, I misunderstood and told someone before they put their announcement on Facebook, who then mentioned it on Facebook before they did and let the cat out of the bag (so to speak), and I got in trouble. Story of my life with my kids, really . . . I’ve spent a lot of the last thirty years in that sort of trouble.
Anyway, I’m now faced with impending grandfatherhood — I have been told before it occurs, so that when it does occur, I may be ready. Except I don’t actually have the vaguest idea how to do this, how to grandparent, or how to get ready to grandparent, and I’m not even sure I want to.
My own father died long before I could see how he might have grandparented (I suspect he would have been terrible at it). Of my maternal grandfather, almost the only memories I have are of someone sick with colon cancer for several years. And my paternal grandfather, about whom I wrote yesterday, was a very stern, but kind man who taught me many things (gardening, penmanship, fly fishing), but then disinherited my brother and me because of a 40-year-old grievance against my parents — not the best model of honest intrafamily relationship. My stepfather did as good a job as a stepparent can being grandfather to the children of his wife’s kids with whom he had a rocky relationship; not a good foundational model, although perhaps the best I have available.
The truth is, as I said, I’m not sure I want to be a grandparent! It’s nothing I have aspired to (despite obligatory public kidding with my son and his wife). I think of grandparents as old and I’m not ready to be old. My heart is troubled by and I am, to be honest, afraid of old age. My definition of that term — “old age” — has been a flexible, changing one over the years, but at nearly 62, I am forced to admit that if I haven’t arrived there quite yet, I am ambling down the hallway toward it. The current life expectancy of American males is 76 years; I am 81.6% of the way there. I may not have one foot in the grave, but one foot is definitely starting to stroll down that corridor! I’m not ready to walk the rest of the way and sit in the wheelchair, at least not yet.
This child’s other grandfather has practice — my daughter-in-law is one of three sisters and both of her sisters have had children — so maybe I’ll just let him take the lead on this. I’ll be the grandfather who sends money on birthdays and holidays; he can be the one who embarrasses the child while on summer vacations, camping trips, ski outings, weekends at the beach, grandparents’ day at school, and that sort of thing. He’s closer, anyway (just a couple hours’ drive away).
Obviously, I’m not at peace with this development in our lives. And I suppose it has as much to do with my feelings about the way our society treats the elderly (which is to say, grandparents) as anything else. I’ll admit to having unresolved issues arising from my own mother’s, stepfather’s, and gay bachelor uncle’s last years of life — researching, rejecting, choosing, and finally rejecting nursing homes for my mother, settling instead for expensive in-home round-the-clock private duty nursing; hospice care in my stepsister’s home for my stepfather; an intensive care home for my bed-ridden uncle. One of the hardest things for me to do in my pastoral work is visit older people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; those places give me the willies, especially when I’m there during a visit by someone’s grandchildren! Impending grandparenthood raises the specter of the nursing home . . . and that is not a vision I relish.
I love my children and I rejoice that my son and daughter-in-law are going to be parents. I think they’ll be very good at it. Is there a way they could do that that wouldn’t involve my being a grandparent?
I have been told about it before it occurs, so that when it does occur, I will be ready to accept it . . . I hope.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.