Did you know last Sunday was Grandparents’ day? I didn’t know it until about half way through the day when I saw an article about it. I was going to call my oldest daughter Anna to pester her for not doing anything to honor me as the grandfather of her children, but I decided not to bother her when I realized I hadn’t called my own parents to honor them for their roles as grandparents of my children. Oh well, I’ll have to find something else to bother Anna about.
I have nothing but fond memories of my own grandparents. They’re all deceased now, but they left me with a treasure chest full of great memories. I can honestly say that there is hardly a day that goes by when I don’t think about at least one of them –Tom Williams, Effie Williams, Harry LaHood, or Cecilia LaHood.
Unfortunately, I never got the chance to meet my grandfather, Harry LaHood. He died three days before I was born. My mom attended his funeral and then went to the hospital to welcome me into the world.
My grandmother, Effie Williams (Grandma Effie), was a no-nonsense “get down to business” type of person. She was smart, tough, resilient, and organized. It was hard to get to know Grandma Effie because she kept to herself. You knew she was always thinking, but most of the time you didn’t know what she was thinking. She was not the type of person to hand out compliments or say “I love you,” but I knew she loved me because of all of the acts of service she so willingly and generously performed for me, along with the way she always treated me – with respect and patience. She had very high expectations of me (and all of her other grandchildren) and I always behaved myself around her because I never wanted to disappoint her. She was a master at managing her time, her household, and her money.
My grandfather, Tom Williams, was the opposite of Grandma Effie. It seemed as though he couldn’t stop giving me compliments and telling me how great I was. I realize now how important his words were to me when I was a boy, especially in light of the fact that I was constantly in trouble at school. I don’t ever remember him chastising me or putting me down. He made me feel wanted because he would act like he was disappointed if I didn’t stop in to see him after school. (He and Granma lived next door to my parents.)
My grandmother, Cecilia LaHood (Grandma Ceil), always made me feel special. Of my three grandparents, she was the one who continued to keep in touch with me after I graduated from high school. She had many great gifts, two of which stood out in her role as a grandmother: she was very empathetic and she was a great conversationalist. Every time she saw me she would quickly take control of the conversation so she could focus her attention on me. She always wanted to know what was new with me, how my wife was, what each of my children was up to, and how my law practice was going. Up until the last few years of her life when she lost her memory, she remembered everything I told her, and each time she saw me she would start off the conversation from where we left off the last time we spoke.
I remember a time when I was 27 years old and was passing through the area where Grandma Ceil lived, so I stopped by her apartment to see how she was doing. At that time, she lived in a complex that was occupied by elderly people. While we were visiting in her apartment, she told me that during the previous month, two different men who resided in the complex were caught stealing from the other residents. The men were in their 70’s and were apparently acting on their own when they broke into some of the apartments in the complex.
I was stunned. I told her that she probably didn’t get the facts right. I questioned her about the men: “Are you sure it was the older men who broke into the apartments?” “Where did you hear about the break-ins?” “How do you know someone didn’t just make it up?” I then told her: “Grandma, whatever you heard is probably not true. Old people don’t steal.” She looked at me with a puzzled look and said: “Honey, old people aren’t any different then young people. Most people who are dishonest when they’re young don’t ever change. They’re still dishonest when they’re old. Growing older doesn’t make a person honest.”
I was speechless. And embarrassed. There I was, a 27 year old hot shot lawyer who thought he had the world all figured out. How could I have been so naive? It was as if I had a blind spot that had been with me all of my life and it took my grandmother to enlighten me.
After I left Grandma’s apartment it hit me. My beliefs about old people came from my lifetime experiences. Every elderly person I knew while I was growing up was honest. Every one of them. My grandparents, my grandparents brothers and sisters, the old nuns who taught me at St. Mark’s, Fr. Fitzgerald – all of them.
During the past week I’ve done a lot of thinking about my grandparents. What was it that made them so special? How was it that they were able to gain my respect and admiration – so much so that their words were like gold? How was it that they were able to influence me in ways no one else could?
I’ll tell you what I think it was that made the relationships I had with them so special. They always saw the best in me. They saw more potential in me than they saw in themselves. They loved me for who I was, not for what they thought I should be.
We all need at least one person who looks for the best in us. Someone who looks beyond our faults and sees a person of great potential. That’s how God looks at us and I think He wants grandparents to emulate Him and view and treat their grandchildren the same way.
There are a lot of grandparents who make the mistake of taking on the role of their grandchildren’s parents. The grandparents may believe that the parents really aren’t doing a good job of raising their children, so the grandparents consider it their obligation to step in and correct and discipline the children – to raise them the way they should be raised.
You may or may not agree with me on this, but if you’re a grandparent, my bet would be that if you disagree with me, you probably don’t have the respect and admiration of your grandchildren. They probably have no desire to be around you, especially if they’re teenagers or older. If that’s the case, you will never have the ability or power to really influence them in any significant way.
If you’re a parent who is still raising children, it’s okay to let the grandparents overlook your children’s faults. It’s okay to let them cut your children some slack. They have a different role than you do. Allow them to love your children for who they are. Allow them to influence them in a positive way. Allow them to pass on to your children a treasure chest full of great memories.
Grandparents have the power to create magic in the lives of their grandchildren. That is the one true benefit of growing older. So here’s a note to all of you grandparents out there: Stop focusing on your own issues and problems and start reaching out to your grandchildren. They are in need of your love and wisdom. Wouldn’t you like to add a few more gems to their treasure chests?