This post is about the true reason I spend so much time with my 90-year-old grandfather, and my message to those of you that are fortunate enough to still have mentally-sharp grandparents around.
It’s 7:00pm on June 5th, 2015. The renowned Grande Ole Opry is about to begin in Nashville, of which grandpa & I had purchased prime seats for. But, we’re not there. We almost made it, just almost. Instead, I’m in a hospital emergency room a few miles away. It was one of those times when you knew you’d been lacking in your prayer & church attendance lately, but at this moment you told God you’d go to church every day for the rest of your life if he would make everything OK. Had that conversation? Many of us have.
My grandpa is legally blind. Wherever we go, I’m his guide, and we don’t win any speed competitions. In an effort to hail a cab to the Grande Ole Opry, I hopped off a curb into the street. Rightfully assuming he should follow, grandpa headed in my direction, unknowing of the curb, and fell like a lead balloon. After a high-strung 2 hours in the hospital, he walked out just fine; free of any serious damage to or beneath his fragile frame. You see, during that ordeal, I felt like I’d failed as his guide, but in reality, though grandpa may hold onto me for course, he’s the one that provides me direction. (Mic drop)
If I had a dime for every time someone told me, “Parker, you’re such a nice grandson for taking your grandfather on all these adventures!”, I could retire. Do I enjoy the attention that these compliments bring my way? Sure, no hiding that, though what I’ve begun to wonder is this: why is spending time with one’s grandparent considered by some as a favor that the grandchild is selflessly granting? Let me tell you why our relationship is, in my mind, one-sided, but in the opposite direction most people think. My greatest blessing calls me grandson.
“Everything below my neck is crap, but everything above my neck is still 100%. How lucky is that?” an older man once told me. Think about it: when our bodies start to go downhill, we hope our minds resist decline. There are plenty of frail-looking people in my grandpa’s retirement home that could take you to school on any subject any time. My grandpa is this way. As his body naturally weakens, his brain has stayed sharp as a tack. It’s with that level of intellectual ability, that level of astuteness that is gained in time and not through formal education, that deems myself and any other grandchild on this planet as the benefactor, if we so wish to take advantage, of such grandparent-grandchild relationships. Simply put, I get out of my grandfather more than I pour into him.
Tennessee vs. Ole Miss. Neyland Stadium, Knoxville.
My grandfather, like many out there, is wise. I value that. I see smart people every day, but rarely do I encounter someone that is wise. In a sense, being smart is like knowing your girlfriend’s hairstyle isn’t as good as her last one. Being wise is knowing enough to keep your mouth shut. You see, smart people tend to process information in a logical way whereas wise people process the emotional, the spiritual, and the subtle side of the logic as well. Similar to many out there, a chunk of my grandfather’s wisdom results from sheer experience. Let me gives you 2 examples, contrasting young men in the 1940’s to many today:
- At 18, a high school senior, grandpa’s main worry was how to survive his imminent deployment resulting from WWII’s draft. When my friends and I were 18, our main concern was which frat we were going to pledge.
- Upon WWII’s end in 1945, as younger soldiers trickled home, the only way to approach women was, wait for it, to talk to them. Today, the first point of contact for many millennials with potential dates is, swiping right¹.
I bring forth these simple examples because they’ve shaped a noticeable difference in mindset. A difference in how many grandparents (mine included) view what really matters as well as social distance. I bet most young men reading this have seen a girl at a bar, made excuses to his friends as to why he won’t talk to her, then reached out digitally (i.e. FB Messenger) to the gal later on. I’m guilty of it! I did that and told my grandfather a few months back, and was deservedly laughed at. My point is this: Our grandparents possess a unique way of thinking, an ethos achieved through navigating a world that has evolved before their eyes, and such wisdom that ensues from their lengthened exposure is valuable for younger generations, like my own, to understand and use as a guide.
WWII Memorial, Washington D.C.
I’ll end with this final note. Why do I spend so much time with my grandfather? Why do I open up a U.S. map a few times a year and tell him to pick a place? Because I value wisdom. I value learning. I value the nearest and dearest. Because the most important thing in this world isn’t how how many Likes you get on Instagram, or how many leadership positions you held in college, or how prestigious your employer is perceived by society, it’s family.
Tomorrow for my grandfather isn’t guaranteed, and once he passes, his brain isn’t mine for the picking anymore. I don’t care about the cost. Cost is only an issue in the absence of value. Sure, we spend time together in his home, but grandparents like to get out and let loose too². So, to my peers fortunate enough to still have mentally-sharp grandparents around: the next time you’re looking at a calendar and envisioning your next trip, think about your grandparents. Change it up. Take a voyage with them. Your relationship, if it hasn’t already, will grow leaps and bounds, and you’ll never regret that. Send a postcard.
What are your thoughts? Are you a grandparent? A grandchild? A parent in the middle? Do you see these relationships through a similar ‘lens’?
1 – Mobile dating apps such as Tinder have 10-million daily active users.
2 – We were at Tootsies Bar on Broadway Street in Nashville a few months ago. I went to the bathroom and left grandpa by the bar. When I came back, grandpa was talking to a gorgeous blonde girl who had moved stools to talk to him. I was eyeing that girl for a hour before that.
— Parker McCorkle.