Jan 20

Memories: How to be a Grandfather

What’s it like to be a grandfather? I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

New grandfather Mark Whittaker with grandsonI don’t mean to sound callous. You see, I am a grandfather. After nine months of waiting, it finally became official on Nov. 21, 2014, when my daughter gave birth to a son, Bradley Charles. Coincidentally, one of my wife’s daughters gave birth eight days later to a daughter, Noelle Marie. (Insert sound effect of a car screeching to a halt) Wait a minute. I’m only 58 (57 at the time). I’m not old enough to be a grandfather … am I?

Do you need a minute to get the chuckles, chortles and snorts out of your system?

Despite about nine months of advance notice, I still wasn’t prepared. I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. They died before I was born, so I never had a direct role model for grandfatherhood. I’ve watched my father as a grandparent, of course, but only as an observer, not really part of the experience. So, I did what any self-respecting, Internet-savvy baby boomer would do: I crowd-sourced it.

A few weeks ago, I asked my Facebook friends to share stories about their grandfathers. They responded with some wonderful memories and anecdotes, along with some advice. Here are some of them, without the names of the contributors and separated by sub-heads. The first anecdotes are from a former newspaper colleague, who no doubt got some of her storytelling skills from her grandfather.

We each believed that he liked us the best

“My grandfather outlived my dad by more than 15 years. He died at 89 in 1990, and he was an absolute constant in my life. I was 33 when he died, and he was the one person in my life who had always been exactly the same – he lived in the same house, had the same phone number. In tangible ways, he was the rock of my life.

“But it was much more than that. He was a quiet man, but a man who was deeply interested in what you had to say. He was like that all my life. One of the things we all remember about him was that he would carry the small ones around and talk quietly to them. I can see him right now, standing in front of a framed picture quietly talking to a fussy baby. He would talk in this soothing voice about the picture. It was mesmerizing. He was always the voice of calm. Again, the constant in the noise of life.

“After he died, all the grands were talking and all of us agreed that we each believed we were his favorite. Seriously, we each believed that he liked us the best.”

“When I got out of college and became a reporter, Granddaddy was my biggest fan. My first newspaper job was at my hometown paper. He clipped out every story I wrote. When people came over, he would say, “Read this.” When I moved to other cities, he got subscriptions to the paper. He read every story. Here’s an example: In 1984, I was working in Greenville, SC. I did a little inside story (10-12 inches) on Textile Week, and I quoted a couple of mill executives. About two weeks later, I got a letter from Granddaddy. He enclosed that clip and an old picture from my hometown newspaper of my father when he played high school baseball. (Granddaddy kept amazing scrapbooks.) He was pictured with another boy. (They were the team stars.) His note said, “I read this story today. You quoted a man named Claude Crocker. I believe this may be the same Claude Crocker who played baseball with your dad at Gray. Call him and see if it is him and please give him my regards.” Well, I wanted to be Miss Professional Reporter, but my Granddaddy asked me to do it, so I did. Sure enough, it was the same man, and he was delighted that I called him, he well remembered the picture and he shared some great stories about my dad and grandfather.

“My grandfather had a great gift for knowing you and knowing and appreciating what was unique about you and important to you. One of my cousins still marvels that Granddaddy knew the names of all of her friends and 20 years later, would ask about them by name. He gave me away at my wedding and he knew all my bridesmaids by name.

“These are probably silly stories to you, and I apologize for going on so long. It’s a long way of saying that he was a man who cared enough to learn a lot about you and remember it. He appreciated what made each of us unique and he always, always treated us as individuals, not just as a group of grandchildren.”

Grandfathers let kids break the rules

“When I remember my grandfathers it’s mostly their hobbies or hanging with them when they piddled in their garages or made wine or traveled. Also, grandparents let kids break the rules. The safe rules…like ice cream sundaes at 10pm right before bed and cook frozen pizzas on the grill!”

New grandfather Mark Whittaker with granddaughterBe interested

“Mark, I never knew my grandfathers, either. But my advice would be to be interested. Parents have so much to do, grandparents have more time to listen. I remember my own dad’s bemused smile when his first grandson would start explaining things to him. It was great.”

They let me tag along

“I have great memories of my grandfathers cooking. The smell of bacon and eggs still brings me back and makes me smile. And they taught me things like how to fish. Basically they let me tag along as they did what they loved.”

Working in his garage

“I was very close with my grandfather on my mother’s side. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after my 7th birthday. But the memories are still vivid. He would always be working in his garage or working on the vehicles so I would always help him out. In the winter I can remember we’d lay down in front of the fireplace after dinner and we also took Sunday drives up to the mountains. Every so often I will have a vivid dream of him and he looks the same as before he died. One dream was where I was sitting at the kitchen table and catching him up on all he has missed. I wish I could’ve gone hunting with him just one time, but I have his rifle so in a way he does go with me each season.

“My relationship with my grandfather on my dad’s side is a little different. I wasn’t quite as close but I remember when him and my gram would always pick me up on their trips out to Soergel’s or Shenot’s to get corn in the summer. On summer evenings we would always sit on the back porch and he would have the Pirates game on his transistor radio. And there were always big family gatherings for summer picnics and holidays.”

Pennies on the railroad track

“I was close to both grandfathers. Both lived in Mt. Wolf. As I was younger than my siblings by 8 years, had a chance for one on one time with both. Grandpa Schauer, Dad and I would often go down to the old wire cloth factory at the bottom of town, feed the carp in this fenced in pool there, and put pennies on the railroad track and wait for a train to flatten them. Good chance to talk. Each Fall, Grandpa Wilt and I would go down to the River near Brunner’s Island to his special walnut trees and spend most of a day gathering them, after which he would dry, crack, and give them out at Christmas. You are blessed, and do not need this. Thanks for the chance to remember.”

A visit to the “principal’s office”

“We used to play school down in my grandmother’s basement with her as the teacher and my cousins and I as the students. It always started as fun and then it turned into real teaching and that’s no fun for kids. So we’d always try to get into “trouble” to be sent up to the “principal’s office,” i.e., just watching TV with my grandfather. I think that sums it up. My grandfather was quiet but always had quality time with him.”

Just the two of us

“My Mom’s Dad passed away many years before I was born. By the time I was coming of age, my Grandmother was living with a man named Stu, and he became a surrogate Grandfather to me. He was a real outdoorsman, and I have fond memories of him taking me fishing. I think it was the fact that it was just the two of us (my Grandmother and my sister were not included) that made me feel special. I last saw Stu when I was in the USAF. He was very old and was living with his daughter in Albuquerque – separated by health from my Grandmother. He reminded me that he sometimes drove me to my horn lessons – and he told me how proud he was to play a small part in my musical career. The only time I EVER saw him cry was when I left from that visit. He died a few months later. My Dad’s Dad used to take me along when he walked his dog. Unfortunately, a combination of a stroke and a heart attack slowed him way down, so most of my memories of him are sitting in his living room with him and watching television. A few years later, he was in a nursing home and, oddly, I learned to use an electric razor by shaving him as he lay in his bed.”

It’s about your relationship with your children

“I remember my grandfather as a proud, honest, hard working man and we had fun things we’d do together. One of my fondest memories was seeing how he treated my Nanny, and after all those years still called her his bride. I thought it was amazing, and it taught me a lot. But here’s what I think is most important. Being a grandfather isn’t just about your relationship with the two precious grandchildren, it’s about your relationship with your children, their parents. I LOVE watching my dad Sumner Kinney’s face light up when he talks about Rachel or sees Rachel. It is one of the most powerful joys I have other than experiencing her myself. But what he has shown me about being a grandfather is his unwavering support of me as a parent. I never despair when things happen or when I start struggling as a mom, or if Rachel needs something I can’t give her because I know that he and Margie are there. I could never be as good of a parent as I am if it weren’t for them. Rachel experiences so much more joy and safety and love because of them and the support they give us BOTH.”

He always made me feel special

“My PopPop always made time for just me with him. He would ask what book I was reading and really be interested in how I felt about it. Sometimes we just sat together watching TV or reading. He always made me feel special.”

Molasses cookies and popcorn

“When we visited my only grandpa and invalid grandfather, he always had molasses cookies for me and sometimes made popcorn from his own garden for me. You can handle that!”

Peanuts for the squirrels

“My Grandfather in Philadelphia would take us across the street to the park and he had a bag of peanuts so we could feed the squirrels. He also took us down the street for ice cream. Grandpa Whittaker died when I was 6, but I remember one time he picked me up when he was done work and drove me out to camp where I stayed overnight. On the way to camp it was raining so hard we had to pull over because he couldn’t see to drive.”

A big smile

“All I remember of our Grandpa Miller is sitting on his lap, and his having a big smile. My other grandpa…was kind of in the background. Only saw him every few years, until he lived with us for a few months…and I still don’t recall much besides stinky cigars.”

Lunch bucket surprises

“My grandfather … was a coal miner in southern West Virginia. When he would come home from the mines he would be covered head to toe in coal dust, except for his eyes, which had been shielded by goggles. My sisters and cousins were afraid of him at first, because of the way he looked, but that all changed when we discovered he always left a Hostess cupcake or some other dessert in his lunch bucket. After that we would race to meet him, to be first at the bucket. He had a great laugh and the happiness of those times stays with me all these years after he passed.”

Special names

“My grandfather was a coal miner – my mom was one of 10 kids so I had a lot of cousins. We all had our special name and he always had time to answer our questions.”

A pipe and long stories

“I have few memories of my grandmother’s husband, not my biologic grandfathers, neither of whom I knew. They lived in Miami so we saw them maybe once a year and they weren’t very involved grandparents. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe, he told long exaggerated stories when he had tossed back a few, he was deeply in love with my grandmother. I only have one one-on-one memory of Grandpap Clark–him telling me a story about wearing “Hai Karate” cologne and women attacking him as he walked down the street, LOL. (Yes, he was drinking scotch.)”

I apologize for the length of this post, but at the same time I hope these recollections help you recall some special memories of your own grandfathers. God willing, I hope I make some good memories for my grandchildren.

Jan 19

Accepting the Your Turn Challenge

I’m supposed to ship a blog post for seven straight days, starting in the next, oh, two hours or so.

Some things never change. I like to write. I don’t suck at it. I launched a 30-year newspaper career based on my desire to write and tell people stuff. During my college freshman year, I had to take an expository writing course. It required a 500-word essay every week. Class started at 11 a.m., and most weeks, I started my assignments around 9 a.m. on deadline day.

Aced it. Did I mention I used a manual typewriter?

Mark Whittaker at manual typewriter

It wasn’t that typewriter, but it was one just like it.

In retrospect, that may not have been a good thing. It did, however, set the tone for my chosen career. I worked right up to deadlines for years. That was especially true working for an afternoon newspaper, where you could finish an article at 11 a.m. and see your byline in print an hour later.

Years later, this time as an editorial writer, I was required to write two or three editorials for every edition — seven days a week. My brain constantly urged me to pace myself. Produce at a steady rate. Write something extra every day so the weekend would be covered without killing myself by writing six or seven editorials on Friday afternoons.

I still hate Friday afternoons. Most days I spent six or seven hours thinking and just one or two hours actually writing. But you know what? They always shipped. I was pretty good at meeting somebody else’s deadlines. Hitting my own deadlines is another story.

Which brings us to the Your Turn Challenge, a nifty little experiment proposed by Winnie Kao. I don’t know Winnie, but I do know she works with America’s top marketing model, Seth Godin. The challenge, if you didn’t click the link, is to post daily blogs Monday, Jan. 19, through Sunday, Jan. 25. True, I’m still working on somebody else’s deadline schedule, but at least I can choose whether to follow it.

I’ve been telling myself for years — really, years — to start blogging more often. “Write” is one of my Three Words for 2015, but it hasn’t kicked in. So let’s do this. In issuing the challenge, Winnie proposed a list of topics. With the exception of this post, I probably won’t follow it. I’m an eclectic sort, and I’ve got a variety of topics to write about from my life, my work in online marketing and even my interest in baseball.

By Sunday, I hope to have a habit. I’ve already started writing the next post.

Jan 04

My Three Words for 2015

Three Words 2015 - Read-Write-ShareA few of my favorite thinkers take a different approach to New Year’s resolutions. Instead of listing things they hope to accomplish in the coming year, they select three one-word themes.

Author, marketer and business cheerleader Chris Brogan started the practice in 2006. By applying themes to his goal-setting process, Chris gives himself flexibility to add, delete or change his goals, as long they fit his annual themes. I’m also a fan of author, marketer and teacher Christopher S. Penn‘s approach to the Three Words process.

After four or five years of reading other people’s annual themes, it’s time to embark on my own Three Words journey. My themes for 2015 are simple: read, write and share.

Read: I grew up in love with reading — history and science fiction, mostly. As a kid, I often was the first one awake so I could read before school. I ruined my eyesight by relying on the hall light to see the print in my latest Hardy Boys or Tom Swift adventure. (My parents thought I was asleep.) In the last decade, maybe a little longer, I’ve let television replace my love of books. It’s time to get back to dedicating time each day to read books.

Write: Journalism was my first career. I wrote about local government, education, health, sports, business, Rotary meetings, community festivals, murder trials, and multi-million-dollar lawsuits. During my 30-year newspaper career I also was a copy editor, an assignment editor and an editorial writer. In my present marketing work, I still work with words by editing marketing and content plans and teaching writing tips to young Dream Local Digital marketers. It’s been a long time since I’ve written for myself. Writing used to be my self-therapy. After a long pause, I believe I have a few things to say, and I’m finally past caring (much) about what other people think.

Share: A couple of recent revelations led to “share,” the most important of my three words. Somehow, I’ve accumulated 330 Twitter followers, even though I don’t tweet often. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t think those Twitter folks are all eager for a daily tweet from Mark. But, I’ve reasoned, if they’ve made the effort to follow me, I should try to give them something — a link to an interesting article, a sarcastic witticism, even an opinion about the Pittsburgh Pirates. So, a daily presence on Twitter will be part of my sharing process.

It goes deeper, too. Writing will be another way of sharing more of myself. I have a bad habit of hoarding information. It’s my twisted mind’s way of protecting myself and preserving power. It’s a bad habit I intend to replace by becoming a funnel of information for others, especially in my work.

The last element of “sharing” is even more personal. Last year brought my first two grandchildren into the world. Although less than 2 months old, they’ve kindled a stronger desire to share my time with them, with my family and with my community.

My three words are pretty basic, but I know that by practicing all three, I’ll continue to grow. If I’m lucky, reading, writing and sharing will also result in worthwhile contributions to the world around me.

How about you? What three words will frame your 2015? Leave a comment or send me a note.