A year goes by so fast, and yet so much can happen in that short time. It seems like just weeks ago that I wrote In My Next 40 Years…, yet it was exactly a year ago.
This past week, I thought a lot about the past 12 months…what I observed, learned, accomplished, and experienced.
Many ideas came to mind as I considered this first article as a 41-year-old…stuff on nutrition, exercise, business, personal development. However, one thing stood out the most this past year: The roles and responsibilities of men, fathers, and yes, even grandfathers.
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Surprise! You’re a 40-Year Old Grandfather
My 40th birthday was Saturday, January 14, 2017. It wasn’t especially eventful, mainly because I’d always shrugged off my birthday. I didn’t like the attention of a birthday party. But my 40th was different. I wanted to celebrate it with others. The only problem was, I didn’t tell Vanessa any of this. I just expected her, somehow, to read my mind.
It wasn’t until the day of my birthday, when I was a little sad and irritated, that I shared why I was disappointed (that could be a separate blog post of its own, on husbands being better at communicating with their wives).
She didn’t get defensive like I would have in her position. Instead, she quietly organized a surprise party for the next day.
She pulled it off. We took the dog to our 6th-floor dog park, and there in the community room were most of our local family members and my parents.
Our son Jacob didn’t show up. That wasn’t out of the ordinary, so we didn’t give it much thought. About a half-hour into the party, we got a text from him with a photo of an adorable, blond-haired, two year-old boy.
The day before, he found out he was Asher’s father. At that moment, we found out we were Asher’s grandparents.
A lot of stuff happened between that moment, and today. Some of it’s been emotionally and financially taxing. But for the most part, we’ve been blessed with joy with this little boy.
We traded in our two-door BMW 428 for an X5 SUV with a car seat.
Toys fill our den.
Vanessa’s Thursday/Friday Instagram Stories often bring us to tears as we watch them after dropping off Asher on Friday nights.
This was the highlight of the past year, and it’s left me thinking about what it means to be a man, father, and now, a grandfather.
Here’s the deal: the world is changing in significant ways. From how people treat one another, to the roles men, women, mothers, and fathers play. We need more “adult” men to step up and mentor young men. To be examples for them.
I’m not writing this because I have it all figured out. Far from it. I’m still learning too.
One final note before I begin…for the women who are raising kids on their own because the dad jumped ship…I commend you for your efforts. You have a tough job, playing the role of both parents. You might not get much appreciation for what you do right now. One day, you will. When your kids have kids of their own, they’ll understand the sacrifice you made. Keep leading them, loving them, and guiding them.
A father’s #1 responsibility is to provide financial, emotional, mental, and spiritual stability for his family.
Unless another family adopted your child, it’s on you to get and keep a job that meets the current and future needs of your child. That might mean providing a home of your own, insurance, daycare, food, clothes, and more.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a relationship with the mother or not. Your child is your responsibility.
Your hobbies and interests take a back seat to providing an income, as well as emotional stability for him or her.
I’m concerned that too many men are entering adulthood, totally unprepared for raising a family. About 35% of men ages 18-35 still live at home with their parents.
How will they learn to provide for their kids if they can’t even take care of themselves?
I get hot on this because I didn’t see lazy men when I grew up.
My dad worked overnights at a northern Minnesota mine, worked days as a plumber, and then took people into the Boundary Waters as a fishing guide on the weekends to meet the financial needs of our family. He did whatever it took. My mom worked too as a dental hygienist.
They modeled work ethic. I learned from their example. I’ve had a job since I was 14 when I delivered newspapers for the Duluth News Tribune. I just can’t imagine an able-bodied man expecting others to take care of him.
Fathers should never look for handouts. They should never look for others to cover for their poor decisions.
Don’t misunderstand. There are times when life deals you a blow you never expected, and you need to lean on your friends and family.
But if you develop a pattern of dependency, that’s a problem. That’s your problem.
Children need to know their father has things taken care of.
As a grandfather, I realize that no father is perfect. I am as far from it as anyone. Grandfathers can help fill the gap that fathers create.
We can provide additional financial support, but even more important, we can provide emotional, mental, and spiritual support and stability.
It’s rare that we need to protect our (grand)children physically, but we do need to guard their hearts, eyes, and ears.
As a protector, you have to guard them from anything that could prevent them from becoming their best, or prevent them from opportunities the world provides.
Protecting them from evil, dishonesty, cruelty, anger, and abuse. Protect them against the questionable lifestyle choices you’ve made in the past.
As a (grand)father, what you do, how you look, how you treat other people…all of it. It ALL affects your child.
If you have a way to make a living that doesn’t depend on others, you might get away with that distorted reality. However, that’s not the way the world works for most, and it probably won’t work out well for your (grand)children if that’s what you lead them to believe.
As a (grand)father, you don’t get to live your life “however you want to.” You gave up that right when you had a child.
Everything you do or say affects your child and his or her future.
Be a man who is an example of respect, integrity, honor, control, discipline, and selflessness. By modeling those virtues, you’ll protect your children from the alternative. You may not prevent them from the alternative. One day, they’ll have their own free will and make their own decisions…good or bad. But for now, you can protect them.
I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.Sigmund Freud
After picking Asher up from his great grandparents’ house on Thursday, we stopped by Starbucks and then headed to Vanessa’s dad’s house for a visit.
While Vanessa and Ray visited, Asher and I had a sword fight with the green stoppers you get at Starbucks to keep your drinks from spilling. After 15 minutes of sword-fighting, with all the animations and warrior noises I could make up, we moved to another game.
Ray had just gotten his Young Living order, which had been packed up with five cardboard tubes. We emptied the tubes and made new, bigger swords out of them. Asher and I played for a while, and then the swords turned into missiles. We stood across the room and tossed them back and forth, sound effects and all.
Later that day, we came back to our place and played with his Trashies. I played the role of the police car from the Trash Wheels Junk Yard set. He was the tow truck. The other 75 Trashies took a break in their trash container while we played with these two.
Asher and the police car (me) had a number of educational and entertaining dialogues. I had to put myself in the mind of a three-year-old and make up conversations to keep him talking.
The more I play the role of these characters, the more conversations I have with Asher. The more conversations I have, the more we connect.
If I thought as an adult and talked to him as an adult, I’d make little connection with him.
But when I get down on my knees and communicate with him at his level, he smiles, laughs, has fun, and we bond.
I’ll never get behind the idea of participation ribbons for showing up, or for riding the bench.
But I do believe it’s critical to find ways to praise young children for doing well or for offering to help.
I left some papers on the couch in our living room. Asher asked me what they were for. After I told him, he said, “Grandpa Tom…Do you think we should put these on your desk, so they don’t blow away?”
Just think about that for a moment…At three, he contemplated how important the papers were, what often happens to papers when they’re left out in the open, and where a safer place for them would be.
That’s critical thinking! There’s a lot of adults who don’t have that skill.
“That’s a great idea, Asher!” I exclaimed. “Do you want to put them on my desk?” “Yes!” he replied.” So we walked into the office and put them away.
Those are moments where we as (grand)fathers have the opportunity to let our grand(children) know that their ideas are valuable.
Asher offers to help pick up packages, throw away the garbage and recycling, and make coffee. He loves to help grandma Vanessa and grandpa Tom, and I believe a big part of it is because we so strongly express our gratitude after he does so.
Manners. Manners must be modeled before they’re taught.
It might seem old-fashioned, but I still believe in the importance of:
- saying please when requesting something, and thank you after getting it.
- replying excuse me when bumping into someone or after burping, I beg your pardon (or pardon) when you don’t hear what someone said.
- chewing with your mouth closed.
- opening the door for women.
And yet, I see many grown men who ignore all of these. In my opinion, the only reason they’d ignore proper manners is that they have no idea what manners are, or they’re just plain lazy.
For a man to get respect, he needs to look and act respectable. A boy learns what’s respectable when his father acts and looks respectable.
The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.Fred Astaire
If you don’t present yourself in a way that most of the culture perceives as respectable, you cannot complain when you’re not respected. As a (grand)father, it is your duty to lead your (grand)children to a way of living that helps them receive the respect they need to succeed in life.
I’ve misplaced my phone more times in the past year than in my entire life. Not because I lose stuff, but because I’m totally engaged with Asher most of the time when we play.
Kids are probably more aware than adults when your mind is preoccupied while you play with them.
There have been a few times when I’ve tried to wrap up a blog post or check in on my phone, and I can tell Asher senses things are different.
To connect with others, including kids, we have to focus on them and avoid distractions.
You don’t build a bond without being present.James Earl Jones
What Will Your (Grand)Children Remember?
What we as (grand)fathers do today will be the memories for our (grand)children in the years and decades to come.
No matter our intentions, it’s our actions that they’ll remember.
Manhood at the most basic level can be validated and expressed only in action.George Gilder
The foundation of being a strong (grand)father is to be a good man. For any new dads out there, that’s where it all starts.
Earlier this year, my friend Scott Schuler published a book called Man Up. I’ve given a copy to most of the men in may family, and to several male friends.
The following is a great list to check yourself. Do you need to Man Up as a man, so you can become a great (grand)father?
You might need to MAN UP to yourself if…
- you dread going to work every day and live for the weekends.
- you are constantly short-fused and get upset with those around you, particularly with the ones who love you most.
- you play more video games than a teenage boy.
- you think everything is someone else’s fault.
- you think others owe you something.
- your first thought are always of yourself and what you want.
- you’re constantly looking and never satisfied–if you are on the hunt for something “bigger and better.”
The world needs more MEN. Even if you have no children of your own, there are kids out there who need a solid father-figure. Be a man. Be a (grand)father. Shape the men of future generations.