Celebrating the New World of Grandfathers

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To paraphrase U.S. president John F. Kennedy — whose only grandson and namesake is now 21-years old — ask not what your grandfather can do for you, ask what you can do for your grandfather.

And since you’re asking, we have some answers.

But first, a big round of applause for all grandfathers this Father’s Day.

A grandfather who’s a boomer or older was born into a world where a grandfather’s role was that of paterfamilias.

He presided as head of the family.

He sat at the head of the table and often was served first.

His word was law, unless he was cajoled or humoured by a wily wife into changing his mind.

What he didn’t change ever were diapers. It’s also unlikely he ever ran after grandkids on two-wheelers when their training wheels were surreptitiously removed.

The grandfathers of many Canadian boomers grew up in another culture, often in another country or continent.

Women and children were generally regarded back then and back there as lesser creatures, requiring guidance and protection. Sons were expected to man up and make something of themselves.

Farmer, labourer or professional, a boomer’s grandfather typically worked hard and bore the burden of supporting his family. He never went out without a hat.

Grandfathers of today have no precedent for dealing with their revised role in the family or in society.

They babysit, they bake, they put grandchildren to bed, they read stories to them before turning out the lights.

They’ve had to make peace with women usurping the primacy their own grandfathers enjoyed. And also with young ladies as their cardiologists and performing their colonoscopies.

Most grandfathers have made this tricky transition to their 21st century roles and a world their own grandfathers couldn’t have imagined with grace and dignity.

They’ve managed to deal with feminism, post-feminism, offspring who text instead of calling, wives with wrinkles, butt-revealing leggings and bouncy cleavage on nubile females, metrosexuals, climate change, eggs not okay then okay, investments up and down, bosses so young they shouldn’t be driving, jobs lost and new careers started.

In short, the rules of the game changed radically for boomer grandfathers in the third period.

What we can do for grandfathers this Father’s Day is understand the challenge of navigating their shifting role and make sure they know they have respect and love for making that effort.

They probably don’t need any more ties, but a man can never have too many socks, good bottles of wine or framed photos of his grandchildren.