From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

The Grandpa Who Became a Daddy

The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.

Charles Dubois

One thing’s for sure: when you marry a man seventeen years older than you, a man who’s about an inch away from his fiftieth birthday, the subject of more children doesn’t crop up in normal conversation. His six children and my three from our previous marriages were quite enough, thank you. But surprise, surprise, a year later, our birth control bit the dust and the rabbit died with a silly grin on its face.

When the pregnancy test came back positive, I was a little hesitant to tell Harold. Hesitant? I was terrified. How do you tell a man who’s dreaming of early retirement that he’s about to bring into the world a member of the college graduating class of the year 2002—and the 1980s haven’t even started yet?

Almost apologetically I broke the news. The way Harold responded, you’d have thought he was a thirty-year-old who’d been trying to father his first child for years. That very afternoon he rushed out to buy cigars and started handing them out to his friends.

Perhaps he thought about how babies bring a feeling of perpetual youth. Or maybe he thought that having one of our own would really solidify our marriage. He’d probably seen that old Lucille Ball movie Yours, Mine and Ours. Perhaps he was just glad he still had what it takes to become a father. Whatever it was, dear Harold stomped through the tulips with glee when I told him the news.

For the first two and a half years after we were married, Harold’s job kept him in Wisconsin during the week, while my three children and I continued to live in northern Illinois. Of course we were together every weekend, but when I became pregnant, my heart broke when I learned the childbirth classes at our local hospital were only on Tuesday nights. Harold had not been present during the birth of his other six children, and I wanted him to experience the incredible joy and miracle of childbirth. But unless he took childbirth classes, the hospital staff wouldn’t consider him fit for delivery room duty.

Undaunted by the miles and the three-hour drive between us, Harold signed up to take childbirth classes by himself at a large hospital in Milwaukee. There he was, fifty-one years old, grandfather to six, graying around the temples, sitting alone on the floor week after week, learning how to pant and blow, pant and blow. He had to do some pretty fast talking to convince his classmates he even had a pregnant wife.

When Andrew was born, Harold was a trouper. He coached and encouraged me through labor. In the delivery room he all but delivered the baby himself . . . even talked the doctor into letting him cut the umbilical cord.

For a man who had paced the hospital halls during the birth of his other children, I was extremely proud of his delivery-room technique. He held our son, posed for pictures, and developed a bond with Andrew within minutes of his birth.

As Andrew grew I noticed that although Harold did not get down on the floor and roughhouse with his son as much as a younger man might, he and Andrew maintained that closeness initiated at birth.

Harold survived the terrible twos and the temper-tantrum threes better than I did. Perhaps it was innate grandfatherly wisdom learned from watching his half-dozen grandkids that reminded him that all stages, no matter how exasperating, eventually pass.

Harold also remembered what it was like when his first brood was at home. Trying to support six children under eleven years of age on a 1950’s teaching salary of about $5000 a year gave him ulcers. But as a newly promoted high school principal, he didn’t have to worry whether or not his paycheck would cover the grocery bills.

When Andrew started school, his dad entered a new phase of life: senior citizen discounts. But in spite of his advancing years, Harold had no trouble keeping up with the younger generation. In the summer he and Andrew visited the zoo, took walks along the lake, and played catch. In the winter Harold instructed Andrew on the fine points of giving Dad good back and foot rubs in front of the TV. Andrew’s reward was usually a big bowl of popcorn and then a piggyback ride to bed.

Naturally, some days Andrew put a viselike strain on Harold’s good nature, such as when Andrew hauled out his toy guitar and drums and made like Buddy Holly during the ball game on TV or during one of Harold’s favorite old-time movies. Or when Andrew’s unbridled energy and unreserved playtime sound effects broke the sound barrier. But then those were the times Andrew drove me up a skinny-limbed tree, too . . . so Harold’s age was not a factor.

Sometimes, though, Harold thought wistfully about retirement. Many of his contemporaries were planning to retire in four or five years. They talked about traveling and taking life easy. The words condominium, Sun City, and motor home punctuated their conversations. But not Harold. As he approached sixty, he was still traveling to Little League games, music lessons, parent-teacher meetings, and the orthodontist.

Often when Harold ran into an old friend, the conversation usually went something like this:

“This little guy your grandson, Harry?”

“No, this is Andrew, my son.”

“Oh, ya? Heh, heh, heh.”

Harold just laughed it off. Sometimes he laughed so hard he cried. Sometimes he just said, “Why me, Lord?”

All things considered, I have to say that a man in his fifties who is already a father and stepfather can definitely father a child with little worry about whether or not he can handle it. Harold always remembered the old saying about “Age is simply a matter of mind. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

When Andrew was nine years old, his sixty-one-year-old dad died of leukemia, a disease that can strike at any age. But in spite of losing his father at a young age, Andrew has good memories of his older dad . . . the Grandpa who became a Daddy . . . and loved every minute of it.

Patricia Lorenz

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