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Joe's Neighborhood

Born again grandpas


You heard it here first.

Frankly, the joy of being a grandpa caught me by surprise.

Listen, I’ve raised three kids, I know what children are all about. And, by the way, where is the gold watch for that job? After bleeding and suffering for each, giving them the best years of my life, all three have told me I can stop parenting them — now!

“Dad. Really. You have to go home, don’t call us, stop writing long texts and emails, no more FaceTime. Please leave.”

But what if they’re making the wrong decisions? What if they choose the wrong friends and the wrong partners? What if the sky is actually falling, and they’re eating sushi rather than taking cover? Who’s going to tell them, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite”?

I guess not me.

And don’t think I’ve been some ne’er-do-well who’s lazed his way through life and have all my eggs in this new grandpa basket. I tried to be a good prosecutor. Although I think I still carry the distinction of losing two murder cases against the same guy for two different murders. Perhaps that is why I primarily taught — cops, judges, lawyers. It was a good gig. How often do you get to teach a roomful of people who are all armed to the teeth, who are temperamentally aggressive, and who know more than you? I always felt a class was a success if I didn’t get shot. I taught with a thin veneer of bravado. Swore a lot. Got in people’s faces. Bulldogged around the lecture halls. Hoping always that folks wouldn’t figure out that I was terrified out of my mind. I was.

And I’m not dumb about relationships. Look, I’m still married. Same woman. The love of my life. We have grown old together. Although, this has allowed her grievances against me to accumulate into topical headings with subgroups and footnotes. For example, a recent failure to buy the correct yogurt. This error gets filed under the fairly innocuous category of “being a dope.” Ah, but “being a dope” gets filed under “failure to listen.” “Failure to listen” works its way up to “not standing up for my wife.” “Not standing up for my wife” finally gets to my family of origin — a repository of ill will that requires marital counseling, expensive gifts and self-flagellation. And the source of all this disaster? Yup, vanilla yogurt rather than plain. There’s a certain beauty to this system, which I am still learning to appreciate.

But being a grandpa? I was so ready to be underwhelmed. To protect myself, I staked out my position early on.

“I’m not going to let any grandchild become the center of my life. I’ve got things to do. Stories to write. Places to visit. Wine to drink. I am not ready to be put out to pasture and left doddering with a new baby.”

I would usually say this with quite a bit of gusto and harrumphing and maybe even the stomp of a foot.

My wife would just smile, which of course irritated the dickens out of me and only made me put my position into concrete, forever, take-it-to-the-grave-type pronouncements.

Then the Denver snows melted, and the darn baby arrived between storms — born a mile high.


See, I just didn’t know the secret. Because, of course, everybody talked about grand-parenting in such mewly terms.

“Oh, you’ll just love love love this little bundle of life.”

Are you serious? How’s that work for you when some little kid and her poor bedraggled parents are sitting behind you on the plane or at a movie or in the restaurant?

“You can spoil that grandbaby without a hint of any concern for good parenting.”

Really? Sixty-five years of pretending to be the responsible guy in the room are going to just vanish, and you’re going to suddenly wear a purple hat and dance naked downtown under the Crusoe Umbrella? I’m not holding my breath.

“You’ll see your legacy actually continue through the generations.”

Legacy? What’s that mean? When my first son was born, my mom said, “Thank goodness, your son doesn’t have your ears.” Well, that was a legacy averted. Whew.

No, But there is a secret not talked about. And it’s the real deal. It’s why you want a grandkid. It’s the big bonanza.

Here’s how it plays…

I was holding Juliette one night for a couple of hours, somewhere between midnight and 2 a.m., and I was telling her over and over as I snuggled her: “You are strong; you are beautiful.” My quirky idea of giving her the right tools for a good life.

And it hit me.

You get to clean-slate your own life. You get to be strong. You get to be beautiful. All those things you messed up, all the things you wished you’d done differently, all those times you wished you would have said the right thing, done the right thing, thought the right thing — this is your chance. Brand new little person. No judgements made by her. Your record is expunged, and you’re off probation.

You are born again in the eyes of the just born.

That’s the secret, that’s the joy, of being a grandpa.

Born again grandpas.

You heard it here first. ♦

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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