By: Kelly McDonald
Though I had a living grandfather, I have one memory of when he was my grandpa. He took me for a tractor ride around his farm. I was five years old. But in a few years, he seemed aged and ill. I was afraid of him when he spoke in gruff words. He rarely interacted with me again like I imagined a grandpa should.
When the children of my older siblings first gave my father his grandfather title, I watched him learn his new role as grandpa. It took time for him to earn that label, walking babies around the yard, building wooden boats that grandkids floated down a nearby ditch, baiting hooks while fishing, taking fish off that hook, pulling kids out of the water.
My granddaughter, when a little girl, announced ‘grandpa’ whenever she spied an old man in a busy mall or down the street. She had developed, at her early age, a mental picture of what I looked like—graying hair, shuffling gait, bib overalls. She imagined her image of me and saw me everywhere.
Another granddaughter loved to read, like me, relishing stories in books. I once took her to my university library and let her check out as many of the children’s books as we could carry home. Afterward, I watched the gleam grow in her eyes whenever we talked about the books she was reading.
My oldest grandson and his twin sister learned to give me a hug at a young age whenever they came to visit, their little arms hardly reaching around my neck. Even now, as adults, they still envelop me with that same ceremony.
My children’s children assign me to the grandfather position in their family tree, a placeholder relegated to me because of their birth. But I must strive to become their grandpa.
The roles are not the same.
A grandfather is only a distant progenitor, a generational label. But grandpa is a proxy parent, life advisor, a cheerleader, your senior friend. It’s the role I’ve relished to fill.