by Michael S McCown
by Michael S McCown
What is the hardest job in the world? The answer is, of course, subjective. At the end of the day though, I thought that being a parent ultimately topped the list. I was wrong. Becoming a parent, requires only that you participate in the act of procreation and nine-ish months later, you’re a parent. Don’t confuse the word “parent” with the word “Mom” or “Dad”. There is a difference and it’s huge. When you’re called Mom or Dad, savor the moment, it conveys love and a bond that means everything. It is the key to your heart.
So what’s the hardest job in the world? Without a doubt, it’s being a Grandparent. Sounds silly doesn’t it? What makes it so hard? Before I answer that, let’s make a few very broad assumptions about just being a parent.
As a parent, you get to call the shots, you make the rules, they live where you live and do what you say. Also, within reason, you’re allowed to download your values, thoughts, beliefs and baggage into their little hard-drives and get a tax deduction for each of them at the same time. You are also, most likely, the most influential person in their life which can either be good or bad.
Being a parent is tough, but the biggest challenge begins when they grow up and start their own family. It’s here that your parental role, which you have spent the last 18-ish years getting used to, changes drastically. You go from “essential” to “as needed”. Your work is now done and it’s time to sit back, relax and watch your children raise their children the same way you raised them; I mean they learned from watching you, right? …Wrong.
Basically, your career as a parent just went under a microscope. You expect them to do “this” and they do “that”. When you bring it up, they politely point out how they are going to do some things “differently”, and with that, you’re completely crushed. Now, you are officially a Grand Parent with a whole new set of rules and rule #1; you are no longer in charge and that’s that.
If that alone didn’t make it hard enough, how about this:
1. Being a Grandparent is totally voluntary: You actually have to want to participate. You get what you give. You have to be there and be involved and if you sit at home waiting to be included, good luck.
2. Your unsolicited opinions about this or that really don’t seem to matter anymore. Go ahead and point out their parenting flaws and tell them what you would have done differently; then duck and find cover. You’ve just crossed the line.
3. It requires travel, wherever. Your children will probably move away. They don’t come to you, you go to them. They’re busy building their life and raising a family. Never show up unannounced and learn to read between the lines. You didn’t like it when your parents did it to you and they won’t either.
4. Your schedule will “suddenly” begin to look a lot like theirs. Get used to it. You will begin checking with them first before making plans.
5. You will now start second guessing everything. Was I a good parent? If I do “this” will I be in trouble? My God, what do they think of me, the way I parented and why does this feeling hurt so much? I should have done things differently, I should have been…
6. You will stare in amazement as they deal with parenting issues, making incredibly hard decisions and all without your valuable input, yet they still have great results. Never underestimate your children or their capacity to face challenges and prevail.
7. If you’re smart, you’ll check with them on the rules they’ve made for their children. If you’re really smart, you’ll actually follow them. I’m struggling with just being smart.
8. You’re still their Mom and Dad. Show your love by supporting their decisions and respecting the goals they’ve set for the children. You can love and spoil the Grandkids, just know where the line is. As a Grandparent, it’s your job to “tap-dance” right up to the edge.
9. Learn to be a good source for solicited advice and ideas, be non-judgmental and your home, a place of peace for the family. Love your Grandchildren more than life itself. They represent the best of your children, who represent the best of you.
10. The bond between a Grandparent and a Grandchild is a truly wonderful thing. To see such joy spring forth from your beloved child is what makes life worth living. But, if something goes horribly wrong and you are blessed to continue raising these precious grandchildren, raise them as your children would have wanted. Show them the passion, desires and beliefs of their parents. Instill in them a sense of “family” and belonging; When they look into your eyes, make sure they always see the reflections of their Mom and Dad and show them that they are never alone, that they belong to a large loving Family with a sense of continuity, shared history and memories of the loved and lost.
Being a Grandparent warms my soul as in the eyes of my Grandchildren, I see the reflection of my children, who I absolutely adore. We are thrilled to welcome each new addition to our family and have never been happier. August can’t get here soon enough, as we will be welcoming our fourth Grandchild. He will be surrounded by his wonderful parents and a large supportive family, who will be bursting at the seams with love and affection. Our bags are already packed and I can’t wait.
The reflection in the store window followed my every movement. The Edges blurred, the detail faint yet, familiar. I paused and peered deeply into the glass; It was my Father, it was my Sons.
During my childhood, the playground bully was a staple; usually ruling recess with an iron fist. While I went to great lengths to avoid his and at times her attention, some days it was my turn in the barrel and that was the accepted reality of the times.
The bully’s of my youth were usually larger, meaner and more comfortable with confrontation than I was at the time. Their reputation usually preceded them with anecdotal stories which were relayed from student to student and thus the bully became larger than life. That was the playground. That was life. We survived and moved on.
As I look back, I realized that the bully’s of my childhood and the people who confronted those bully’s, taught me volumes about existing in the real world beyond the playground.
1. Size Matters: You don’t run your mouth to someone twice your size and expect to walk away unscathed.
2. I learned very early to think strategically: To get from A to B required a plan of action in order to avoid a confrontation, especially when I knew they were looking for me.
3. You learn to think quickly and measure your words: Every utterance had the potential to either provoke or calm the situation.
4. You learned diplomacy and the ability to reason your way out of trouble: I learned the importance of “engage brain before mouth”. I also learned how to reason with the bully, which rarely worked but was worth trying.
5. I learned team work: When the bully would go too far and it became time to end his reign, I learned early that by joining with others and confronting the bully, he would ultimately cave and run.
6. I learned to respect bravery: Every once in a while, someone would say “no” and square off with the bully. Win or lose, I admired the one who was brave enough to say “no more”. Their singular action usually started a chain reaction, in which a group formed and drove the bully away.
7. I learned compassion: I also learned why they were a bully. Their home life was a struggle and they were generally unhappy and acting out. I also learned that most bully’s would rather have friends than enemies.
8. I learned to choose a side: Either you were part of the bully’s circle or you weren’t. I learned the value of compromising with those who disagree. Everyone has their own problems, wants and desires and you learned, to whatever degree, how far you were willing to tolerate their position . The bully affected us all: either you were with him, which made life easier, or you were against him. Either way, you chose.
9 I learned to adapt and to cope: The playground was your world now. It’s not like you can just leave, so you learned to make it work.
10. You learned who you DIDN’T want to be like in life: In the presence of a bully, who you are, is defined relatively quickly. I wanted to be the one who “stood up”.
I remember two pivotal events in my life that formed a core belief that I still live by to this day.
The first occurred when I was about 10 years old during a Boy Scout meeting at a park. We were surrounded by eucalyptus trees when we heard the sound of a boy screaming for help. We spotted a large tree house and saw older boys hitting him with belts. I was stunned at the cruelty. My next door neighbor, Renée, immediately went to the tree, climbed it and the older boys began suffering her wrath and were jumping out of the tree in all directions, running for their lives. She then returned with the greatful boy who was without a shirt and covered with welts. She was my hero. We all just stood there with our mouths open, including the other adults; she didn’t fail to act, she took charge.
The next event occurred two years later in junior high school. I was wearing a religious shirt that said “Only He can prevent eternal fire” with a picture of Smoky the Bear on the front. I really liked that shirt but an older kid, who enjoyed picking on 7th graders, didn’t. He grabbed my collar and stretched it almost to the point of tearing the shirt. I was furious and attacked him. At 5’ 6” and maybe 120 lbs, I was no real threat but I did everything but chew his ear off and he actually fled never to bother me again.
Those two events changed me forever; I learned to never underestimate the sheer awesome will and power of a Parent in defense of a child, whether it’s her’s or not. I also learned to never, ever tolerate a bully. You either step-up or you sit down and shut up. Dante reserved the anteroom of hell for those who can’t decide which.
The Playgrounds of my youth were a microcosm of the outside world. After high school, I felt generally ready and prepared for the harsh realities of adult life.
In an bizarre way, we owe a twisted debt of gratitude to the school bully. Unintentionally, they contributed to the overall social development of the students they encountered. Sadly, I do recognize, however, that while some were able to overcome the bully’s existence, others, tragically were not and took their own lives.
Bully’s are a reality of life. They cannot be legislated away nor can they be ignored. I feel our best course is to explore the reason why children become bully’s and try and effect a change on that level.
I’m working in the yard doing the most unpleasant of jobs; filling a large orange bucket with crap from our dogs. When the kids were young, we called it potty patrol. Now that they’ve grown up and gone, the task falls to me and apparently, I’ve been derelict.
It seems that our two black labs, Archie and Abby along with our Granddog Nala, and Sweet Pea, a chihuahua, have all decided to go into the fertilizer business.
With shovel in hand, I began and am quickly lost to the land of daydreams. I thought of my past jobs, as I’m currently staring down the barrel of retirement and am amazed at the success that I’ve enjoyed. I found myself back in a Police Cruiser, then I think of my career in the financial services industry. I remember the businesses that I was a part of building and their successful growth which ultimately culminated in a profitable sale, creating the early opportunity to retire. I’ve always had goals and with complete tunnel vision, I did my part to make them happen.
My mind then returned to the present and I see my half-filled bucket of crap. Oddly, I’m annoyed that it’s only half full and immediately set out to fill it to the top line, about an inch below the rim. I’m now laughingly focused on this goal and set about finding as much crap as possible. I’m wishing that we had a Great Dane which would increase the volume while cutting the fill time in half. I mean, it’s all about efficiency. I then realized what I was doing and the silliness of my endeavor…and then I filled the bucket to the line..
It occurs to me though, that the reason for my past success is that I make goals, then “doggedly” pursue the meeting of them and that apparently no goal is too silly to pursue. It also seems that I’m quite “anal” and that I like to win and I win by crushing the goals that I set.
I filled that bucket; one scoop at a time and relished in my success. Then I took pictures…
Nala appears to questioning my sanity but does seems appreciative of my efforts.
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
It’s early in the morning and I’d like to turn on the TV. Ultimately though, that would lead to the national news and their dreaded panels or the local news where I would learn whose tractor flipped over or how the local chess team did. Other than that, it’s commercials about erectile dysfunction, Flo selling insurance or someone reminding me of how I should be feeling about an issue, which is frustrating and annoying. Keeping an opinion to yourself, is apparently a “cop out” in today’s world.
I get it though, we are in trouble. As a society, we’ve actually ground to a halt; paralyzed. The media, the people, the politicians; it’s either “this way or that”. Compromising, which used to be an act of meeting in the middle, is now seen as “giving in”; failing to get your way or “selling out” your cause. We are inundated daily with opinions and being forced to choose a side; and that side had better agree with the “popular” position or you will suffer certain backlash from their group. Well today, I’ll be Nero while Rome burns. If me not engaging in this mess matters that much, then burn baby, burn, we’ll rebuild again tomorrow.
I don’t feel like turning on the TV or fighting with those who disagree with whatever position I have or don’t have and I definitely don’t care whether the chess team won or lost. Today, I don’t want to hear your opinion and tomorrow’s not looking too good either. However, erectile dysfunction is something to ponder, as I am getting older, so I might need to watch that commercial again.
No, I think I’ll just read a good book this morning and watch the sunrise. We’re still allowed to do that, right?
Recently, I came across a picture of my father and me. It was the last time I saw him. It was around 2012. Even then unfortunately, I knew how this story would end.
My father’s demons were his everyday companion, always ready and eager to steal from him any joy or happiness that he might find. They had arrived early in his life and they were with him until the end. That end came a year ago this October and he died in the worst way. He was alone.
Life had been cruel to him this last couple of years. My sister passed away and he began to unravel. He made choices that drove people away, choices that ultimately ended his life. His family lovingly tried, some more than others, to save him from himself. Ultimately the choice was his and he was tired. His demons and the alcohol were unrelenting.
I wasn’t always there for him. I didn’t want to be. Though I was his only son, I was most likely also one of his many demons. He desperately wanted our relationship to be different. A father and his son, but his drinking was getting worse and I was unwilling to endure his temper, his pain, his life. We were different and it was easier to stay away. I was not part of the loving family that surrounded him, my Aunt, Uncles, Cousins, Step-Mother and Sisters were. In the end, I was hundreds of miles away when my Step Sister told me that he was gone.
I now find myself reflecting on the last 10 years of our relationship. It is filled with distance and quick phone calls. He was always there for me but I was not for him. I made that choice. I’ll live with that choice. I accept that I could not have saved him, but it would have eased my conscience to have tried. I am thankful for those that did what I was unwilling to do.
I have his laugh and I miss him. I am slowly learning to appreciate what I once resented. He made mistakes, he was human and he was my father. In the end, we failed each other, him early and me later. He is gone now and his demons with him. He now lives peacefully in the memory of those who knew him and those who loved him.