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What Do We Owe To Our Grandchildren?

There I was in a long line with my grocery cart.  The lady at the front – the OCD woman with 30 clipped magazine coupons to scan, each of which will save her 1.5 cents – was proudly waving her fanned collection at the checker as if she were about to be a big winner in Reno. This was going to take a while.

So, I did what I always do to distract myself. I looked for something to read. To my immediate left at eye level were THE TABLOIDS, the early, spawning originators of fake news and voyeur headlines.

How often has your first reaction to something been “I’m so glad my grandchildren aren’t here to see/experience this.”? It happens to me with surprising frequency. It isn’t that I want to insulate them from the world. I don’t have primary responsibility for them nor should I be setting priorities. They have parents for that. Still, these times always trigger in me concern about what I am doing on a regular basis to help my grandchildren.

Grandparents come in a dazzling variety of configurations. Some can’t wait to buy teddy bears and books to read together. Some don’t want much to do with them until they are old enough to get into the car on their own for a ride. Other grandparents delight in baby sitting or taking a teenager out for her first cup of coffee or helping them become diehard team fans or setting aside money for college or attending piano recitals and T-ball games.

My personal configuration is built around the intention that I can give each of them confidence and adaptability. Provided we have the foundation of high quality one on one time together, I can add experiences which will serve them well for the rest of their lives. For example, finding their way (safely) through a new experience in a place they don’t know well with other kids they don’t know at all – Circus or Marine Biology or Theater day camp, for instance. Or lunch with me at a white table cloth restaurant followed by a movie or a play. Or walking down Grant Avenue together hand in hand and going into a tea shop for a cup where the rest of the customers are all Chinese and over 70.  Or going down ALL the waterslides together several times at a sunny resort.

How does what I want to give to them differ from what I owe them? THE TABLOIDS pushed me into exploring the difference.

I discovered I’m clear about what I want to give to them: any kind of new experience that will 1. allow them expanded forms of curiosity and knowledge they hadn’t thought of before, 2. provide them with enjoyable social and cultural surprises and insight, and 3. add to their confidence that they are smart, adaptable, and highly competent people.

As for what I owe to them, I have to remember that their lives won’t necessarily be an extension of mine. In fact, their lives may differ as significantly as the world they are inheriting differs from the one handed to me.

Here, after much reflection, is my list of what I owe to my grandchildren:

  1. My own authenticity (and non-pedantic exposure through me) to the norms of my generation
  2. Explanation more than total protection. I could blind them to THE TABLOIDS or I could have a serious conversation about the implications of rampant voyeurism and fake news.
  3. Trust and respect that in the long run they will make good decisions about their lives as they move into a future which I can only imagine.
  4. Unadulterated, non-demanding affection.
  5. Continual remembering – and the behaviors that go with it – that I am their grandfather and not their parent.
  6. Sincere interest in them and their interests.
  7. Enough high-quality availability without being like hot water, always available at the turn of the tap.
  8. Respect and support for their individuality. I remember, when I was 17, my own maternal grandmother gently taking my hands in hers and saying “Do what you want to do, dear. You will anyway.”  I have never forgotten it.

In a nice way, I owe the OCD coupon-waving customer and THE TABLOIDS in the rack a moment of gratitude. Without them I wouldn’t have been pressed to distinguish between give and owe.

As for what my grandchildren want from me, I’m saving that for a future blog.

The new year is now upon us. What is it you want to give to your grandchildren in the coming year?

What is it you think you owe to your grandchildren in the coming year?

What is it you think your grandchildren want from you?

Let me know, please.

If You Are Going To Ask My Granddaughter A Question, Please Make It A Smart One


There was a time, actually not so long ago, when we made choices and they stayed made.  We chose among a menu of options and decided on  just one.  We chose an employer, spouse, educational path, profession, home and community. We decided what our primary assumptions, preferences and loyalties were.   Once our choices were made it took a business earthquake or a personal cataclysm of some sort to change things.  Today not only do decisions often refuse to stay made, but most of us think of change as one ingredient of life not requiring a direct nuclear hit to get us to reconsider.

In the process, one of the outstanding changes in precedent is that we are no longer required to choose one single thing and wear its name around like a sign hung from our necks. We can have a job AND freelance. We can operate from our car, office, and home all within an hour or two. We can hold opposing ideas at the same time and see the wisdom in both.  We can belong to more than one diverse group simultaneously.  I consider this to be a part of the new normal.   

As a long time Career Professional, I discourage my clients from building a plan or a search on a single piece of work (form and content) for the rest of their lives.   

As an Organizational Psychologist I regularly coach employers to understand that smart retention has become as important as smart hiring.     

As a Developmental Psychologist I observe people at 50 thinking they are already fully formed and that their future should and will be automatically an extension of their past.    

As a Grandfather, I recently observed as one of my friends asked my granddaughter what she wanted to be when she grew up.    She knew from my face that I would see the question as a Bozo (think clown) Question.   

Why was it a Bozo Question? Because it assumed: 

  1. she will (and is expected to) choose one near permanent thing for the rest of her life
  2. there is such an end state as grown up, a place at which she will finally arrive
  3. by the time she gets “there” her intended outcomes will all be waiting for her, mostly unchanged and still quite stable.    

A much smarter questions would have been: “Of your various longer term interests and possibilities, which most appeal to you at the moment?”

The original question didn’t allow for her development to be ongoing and intentional for the rest of her life.

When does a great 6-year-old start working on being a great 10-year-old?  Hint: Not at 9.  

When does a 38-year-old start working on being a great 50-year-old? Hint: Not at 49.   

When does a 74-year-old start working on being a great 80-year-old?  Hint: Not at 79.   

What forms is your own development taking at this point in your life?   What are your own intentions for your future, immediate and long term?


In Praise of Traveling with Granddaughters

SFO Airport/San Francisco. 3:00 am PDT. Three of my granddaughters (ages 7, 11, 14) and I are flying to the East Coast.  Their 17-year-old sister is already at our house.  Accustomed to flying together, the girls and I are a moving combination of jocular and somnambulant.  We have a 5:00 a.m. departure with a connection to make in Denver.  Ever mindful of the many reminder messages to be at the airport at least two hours in advance of departure, we have arrived on time.  The United check-in kiosks say, in effect, “Not operational outside of regular business hours.”  The girls and I sit patiently.

SFO 3:50 am PDT. The very nice airport police stop to answer my question.  United check-in staff usually doesn’t come on duty until 4:30 a.m.  And TSA won’t open for a while either.  The kiosks are still not operating.  The girls are fine.  I am not so much.

SFO. 4:20 am PDT. The kiosks have come online and I have obtained our boarding passes. Somewhere the luggage tags have printed out.  We are now standing at the front of a United Preferred Service line with about 25 people behind us.  Many of them are on our flight and are wondering out loud whether someone at the airline simply can’t do the time math.  The girls are fine.  I am not.

SFO. 4:25 am PDT. The first of the United staff arrives and very crossly demands to know why we are all standing there instead of having checked ourselves in and proceeded on to TSA.  “Because we don’t have access to the luggage tags and the luggage belt isn’t running.  How would you suggest we solve that?”  I say.  “Oh” Is her reply.  The girls are fine.  I am irritated and also relieved to finally be moving ahead.

SFO. 5:15 am PDT. We have passed through the TSA screening process, have boarded, and are now in our seats.  The pilot announces that we have a small mechanical problem, something to do with fuel.  A mechanic is coming to check it out and fix it.  Shouldn’t be long.  I decide I don’t care because we’re all in our seats.  It’s only a question of time.  What can go wrong?  I’m sitting with the 7-year-old asleep leaning on my right shoulder.  The other girls are fine, too.

SFO. 7:15 am PDT. We have now been through pilot announcements about the fuel problem, checking to see if the part is available, thanks us for our patience, the part is found, the repair is made, whoops we have lost our cabin crew and are awaiting a new one, and it won’t be long.  I’m meditating with only partial success.  The girls are fine but a bit restless.

Denver/DEN Airport. 10:15 am MDT.  The Customer Service agent (who deserves combat pay; if he had been a waiter I’d have tipped him big time for courtesy and calmness under fire) deftly points out to me that we have missed the only flight to our Tampa destination on Saturdays and that 1) He can book us through Dulles but we can’t get to our destination until 12:30 am tomorrow, or, 2) We might want to stay over in Denver for the night, and 3) It’s not only difficult to get four rerouted tickets but I also want to be sitting next to my 7-year-old which makes it even trickier.  I do not want to spend the night in Denver.  He will do his best.  And he does.  Four tickets to Tampa via Dulles.  I am doing my Blood Pressure Go Down chant silently.  The girls are hungry, tired, bored and well behaved.  I drown my sorrows by having my shoes shined, one of the little joys of my life.  Denver Airport has one of the best airport shoeshine stands anywhere: Executive Shine.  Try it out sometime!  The girls wait for me and then we go and eat large meals.

IAD/Dulles Airport. 6:00 pm EDT. Our flight leaves at 10:30 p.m.  Only 4 ½ hours to kill.  I am feeling tired.  The girls are, too, but continue to be total troopers.  I find myself admiring them more and more.  Our gregarious and articulate 14-year-old strikes up a conversation with two women whose tales of getting from Rome to home somewhere in New York state have stalled at IAD.  Not only were the ladies sweet with the girls, their travel stories made all of us feel much better about our own experiences of the day.  We finally find a Concourse D ersatz French restaurant and eat more big meals, and return to our gate to wait.

We reminisce and talk about our memories of traveling together.  Do you remember the time we spent part of the night at Newark Airport and United gave us dark blue blankets to keep us warm in the terminal?  Do you remember the time our flight was four hours late leaving SFO?   That was way worse than this time.  How about the time I took the girls to the Night Zoo in Singapore and the then-youngest, now 11, who usually wouldn’t hold my hand for more than two seconds, suddenly wouldn’t release her mace-like grip on my fingers as we rode the zoo jitney through the nocturnal animal exhibits?

IAD. 10:30 pm EDT. The 14-year-old has taken (at my insistence) my courtesy upgrade to first class.  She was “willing to suffer with it,” she told me, tongue firmly in cheek.  The 11-year-old has an aisle seat two rows ahead of us where I can see her, and she proudly pretends she is on her own.  The 7-year-old and I are in a window and center seat, respectively, and lean into each other like exhausted beanbags.  The girls are just fine, thank you very much, and have been much more patient than their father and their uncle, my sons, might have been under similar circumstances.  I have now forgotten my name and only know that I am somehow related to the little blonde girl on my right who is sleeping softly with her forehead pressed into my upper arm.

TPA/Tampa Airport. 12:30 am EDT. We stumble off the airplane, retrieve our luggage, take the shuttle to Economy parking, and begin the 50-minute drive home.  My wife Linda worries that I will fall asleep at the wheel.  Not a chance.  I am wired again on adrenaline and couldn’t sleep if I wanted to.  Linda keeps calling to see if I’m OK at the wheel.  I am fine.

Once home, after lots of hugs, the girls all go to bed and instantly fall asleep.  I, however, am still wired, and it’s well after 3 am before I can finally drift off.  In the interim I reflect on how fortunate I am to have the opportunity to travel with these granddaughters of mine.

Travelling may not always go smoothly but we get great stories and memories out of it anyway. I can just imagine how we’ll reminisce about the time we ate in that fake French restaurant at IAD and how the girls guessed at what the faux French words meant on that grungy menu.

Have any grandchildren travel stories you’d like to share with my other readers? If so, please leave them in Comments.



Keeping Current

As my wife often remarks, she isn’t worried about me running off with a younger woman.  A younger woman wouldn’t understand a word I said.  My musical, political, historical and humor references would precede her by a number of years, possibly even extend to before she was born.

Still, I do try to stay current, thanks to my grandchildren, ages 4 to 16.  Through their encouragement I now have passing familiarity with Pentatonix, Rihana, Taylor Swift, Shakira, Pink, Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez.  (I already knew Lady Gaga because Tony Bennett introduced us to her through their duets on TV.)

I’ve seen the films Big Hero 6, Kung Fu Panda 3, Cinderella, Mirror Mirror, and Gnomeo and Juliet, among others.  I don’t always get the point,  but it doesn’t matter because I enjoy being with the grandkids so much. And I can also say “thank you” and “you’re welcome” in Cantonese.  I have the call to do so just about as often as I can find ways to work the above musicians and films into my repartee.

Now comes Fast Company to deal another reality blow to the remote possibility that I can keep up.  It’s one of the magazines I read in an attempt to stay current in our world of work, business, technologies and discontinuous change.  I just read that “Just nine months after investors placed a $10 billion valuation on WeWork, the office-rental company has raised another round of funding at a $16 billion valuation . . . [making] WeWork the sixth most valuable private company, eclipsing SpaceX and Pinterest.  On paper, WeWork is nearly as valuable as the largest publicly traded office real estate company, Boston Properties, which has a market cap of about $18 billion.”

Boston Properties is the only familiar name to me.  Pinterest I have encountered at some point.  WeWork and SpaceX?  What?  And on top of that, numbers in the multiple billions exceed my usually flexible imagination.

This is getting out of hand.  Or maybe it should be past tense.  This got out of hand some time ago.

I’ve decided to have a new tee shirt printed for myself.  On the chest it will say “No One Can Know It All.” On the back it will say “Including Me!”.   If I can’t hide it, I might as well go public with it.

Here’s my question to you: How are you trying to keep up? Or did you stop trying long ago?

Revelation in Aisle 6

My 6-year-old granddaughter and I were at the grocery store, just the two of us.

She lives on the other side of the United States with her family.  Skype is a sorry substitute for spending time (in the flesh, not virtually) with her, her sisters, and her cousins.  So I have to make the most of every opportunity when we’re actually together, in person.

That means actively creating one-on-one opportunities – and perfecting the art of scheduling in kid lunches, kid movies (I have seen How To Train Your Dragon, Big Hero Six, Inside Out and Cinderella, among others) and trips to bounce houses. (I’ve also coached the younger set on how to shop in a bookstore. We practiced asking a clerk, “Who is the expert in kids’ books here?  What is new and cool for an X year old?” before going to the store. It worked out really well, by the way.)

Meanwhile, back at Publix, I offered to let her push the cart. She immediately went into a ballet pose (arms in an arch above her head) and said, “Oh Poppa, that is a lifelong dream of mine.” She has three extremely competent older sisters who normally take the helm.

So I let her push the cart with only occasional course corrections to avoid the man on crutches, the 8′ cereal box tower, and the stock boy innocently shelving coffee. All the while I was pondering how satisfying simple acts of love and kindness can be.

A few minutes later, she patted me on the arm and said, “I know you are going to die someday but not for a long, long, long time, like two years.  Don’t worry. I will always remember you.” Where that came from I do not know and don’t care. My smiling response: “Thank you. I am greatly relieved.”

If you get a chance for one-on-one time with your grandchildren, grab it whenever you can, wherever you are. These small moments have big impact, and not just for you.

A Grandparent’s Legacy

All grandparents leave a legacy to their grandchildren, whether they intend to or not. It may be an inheritance, an heirloom or a box full of old letters and curling snapshots. It may be a legacy of presence or absence, predictably silly jokes or yearly fishing expeditions. Or it may be a legacy of being loved as babies and avoided as teenagers. Or vice versa.

My wife and I have chosen three things for our legacy to our grandchildren. Happily, none of them involve a trust fund.

Memories come from repetition, maintaining traditions as simple as stopping for pancakes partway through a morning bike ride; flying across the country together and changing planes at Newark Airport at 3:00 in the morning; having different colored linens for each visiting kid, or taking a grandchild, one at a time, to an elegant restaurant in a fancy hotel where they have to sit and converse with the grownups and order off a menu bigger than they are.

Confidence comes from trying new things on their own. Every year our grandchildren (age 6 or older) live with us for a piece of the summer, without their parents and away from their friends. We consciously expose them to experiences that build confidence in this new environment. Every evening we all sit around the table and each tells the group about the most interesting part of the day. Discussing their experiences, inferences and points of view helps them to learn how to tell a story well; waiting their turn teaches them patience; listening to the others clues them in to what other people think is noteworthy, funny, embarrassing, poignant, etc. Along the way the kids learn poise and graciousness that comes from being treated as, and expected to act as, an adult in social situations.

Ability comes from spending time with voracious learners, not just being entertained by doting elders.   Whether it’s at home with us or at day camp, we pick active experiences that build skills or foster creativity: drawing, theatre and circus techniques and performance, scuba diving and marine biology. The girls can watch videos and stay glued to their smart phones at home. With us, they live their lives as unplugged and curious as possible.

So far we’ve had three grandchildren visit as a group. Next year we’ll have five. Eventually we want all seven. Regardless of the number of grandkids we host, I want all of them to look back at their time with us as an idyllic experience, worthy of reminiscence. I do know the oldest girls look forward to July, and beginning in August they start to plan what the next summer’s adventures will be.

Needless to say, I’m getting a lot of satisfaction from the whole thing. And what would please me most is if my sons carry on the tradition when my grandchildren become parents.

Grandparenting: Verb, transitive. Definition: In flux.

My July granddaughter/grandfather ritual has just ended. It began with me flying out to California to my son and daughter-in-law’s place. They have four daughters, ages 5, 9, 12, and 15. The blonde, blue-eyed youngest, wearing a pink princess dress and no shoes, waved her wand before throwing herself into my arms, crying, “I love you, Poppa!” The other three girls are only slightly more reserved; when we reconnect in person, it’s a greeting card kind of experience.

The three older girls then flew back to Florida with me, without their parents, for the first two weeks. At the beginning of the 3rd week their parents and youngest sister arrived for a week and then they all flew home together. (The threshold for admission for the first two weeks is one’s 6th birthday, so next year we’ll host four granddaughters.)

This last visit reminded me how life is progressive. And every year I’m reminded, almost instantly, about how much my granddaughters have matured since the previous summer. All three can converse like adults. All three ask tough questions. I have to juggle growing my relationship with them individually while still attending to the group.

Every year I’m also reminded about how much I have had to learn about being responsible for girls. I raised two boys and have no sisters. My learning curve used to be a vertical line; now it’s more like an incline plane, and I’m proud of that.

Part of the learning curve involves understanding preferences. Preferences about hair and food, sleeping arrangements and chores, and sleeping in vs. getting up for an early bike ride with me that includes a stop for pancakes. There’s also a clear preference for visiting the ladies’ room in packs. One moment they are all standing beside me. The next moment they have all disappeared, following a silent cue I don’t ever see.

I’ve been involved with these wonderful girls all their lives, of course, and marvel at how different they are.

One is a talented thespian. Another uses words like bioluminescence and flailing in the same sentence and knows exactly what she is talking about and where she is leading the conversation. The third is so tenacious she makes me shudder. This is the same one who refused an explanation of how a bike with hand brakes and gears works, and then crashed into the back of her sister’s bike by trying to brake with the pedals.

In any case, these aren’t little girls any more. And as much as I delight in the unselfconscious affection of the barefoot, blonde princess, I realize how important it is to pay attention to what grandparenting all four of these fledging women really means. It’s one thing to have a romanticized relationship with grandparenting and with each of them. It’s another to connect with pre-teens and teenagers in a meaningful way, one that creates opportunities and memories for all of us. Because I’m the designated grownup, it’s more up to me to make that happen than it is to any of them.

As much as they’re evolving, so must I. Grandparenting teenagers can’t be the same as grandparenting little girls. So I ask myself: How will I have to change to keep nurturing them in the ways they need?

The Bionic Grandfathers

In our 20s all of our body parts were organic.   What we needed was always at the ready.

If we wanted to read, we grabbed a book and sat down. If we wanted to run, we put on track shoes and ran. When we wanted vertical or horizontal intimacy, we simply took off our clothes. We could eat anything we wanted without bodily repercussions. If we went to a concert we were already wearing our ears. When we got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night – on the then-infrequent occasions when we needed to – we just got up, did it, and went back to bed, all in the dark.

I’ve been conducting a survey among my male friends about what’s different about being in our 60s and 70s compared to our 20s. And what’s emerged is Bionic Grandfatherhood.

My friend Harry, 67, turns out to be the prototypical Bionic Grandfather. He’s still an active guy, an avid reader, works and volunteers, plays golf several times a month, considers himself to be virile, enjoys live musical and theatrical performances, and sleeps well but not usually through the night.

So what’s different now for Harry? “I can read but not without my glasses,” he told me. “I can walk and exercise well but not without my orthotics; otherwise my back hurts. If my wife or I want intimacy our first thought is to make sure I’ve removed my hearing aids and put them somewhere safe. Those suckers are expensive and God forbid we’d damage them in an amorous clench. It’s the opposite at concerts and plays, of course: I must make sure I’ve put on my hearing aids before leaving home so I can understand the lyrics. I can still eat spicy foods provided I take a pill first; otherwise I get messages within moments from my colon threatening to secede. And when I get up to do my business – which is often more than once a night – I always turn on the light. Who knew there would be a relationship later in life between my prostate and the bathroom light?”

Glasses, orthotics, hearing aids, pills for potency/pills for sleep, and brightly lit bathrooms: We’re still going strong, with a bit of assistance.

Gentlemen, what other bionic devices keep you going strong?

Ladies, how do you feel about your bionic husbands?

Let me know.


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