It's unfair! For years I have desperately wanted to be a grandfather, but my children aren't cooperating. Certainly they're old enough to have children: Daniel is 37, Dina 36 and Jon 34. But none is married. Yes, unfair. Here I am, 73. Am I fated to pass on without ever experiencing the pleasures of grandchildren?
Season after season while I caterwaul at the universe, relatives and friends gratuitously, maddeningly, regale me with anecdotes about their incomparable grandchildren: This couple went to a Punch and Judy puppet show at an amusement park and lavished balloons, ice cream and toys on their Miranda and Dan. Another couple brags about the astounding brightness of their Kenneth and about the extraordinary physical grace of their Leah.
One relative tells me, with immense pride, that he is already planning the bar mitzvah of his 8-year-old grandkid. Why, even my own brother and his wife are not exempt from this infuriating crowing. Their Gili, only 7, has made an elaborate study, complete with sophisticated illustrations, of bats. My sister-in-law looks absolutely radiant when she relates how Ari snuggles up on her lap, and looking up reverently at her exclaims, "Bubbe, I love you!"
I'm happy for my brother and sister-in-law. But what about me? I am sick and tired of expressing mazel tov every time a new grandchild makes an appearance. It hurts that their good fortune hasn't rubbed off on me.
"But why," a friend recently asked on hearing my lament, "do you suppose that being a grandparent would make you happy?"
I tried to explain. For one, there is a lot of the child in me. Recently my East Coast-based nephew and his family were in San Francisco for a weekend, and my wife and I picnicked with them in Stern Grove. When we had finished eating, I volunteered to take their two sons, Daniel, 8, and Ari, 6, for a walk.
Eager to create an adventure , I led them to a large goldfish pond. To set the stage, I picked up a stone and flung it into the water. "See if you can hit the fish," I challenged the boys. "If you do, we'll have our dinner." Being bright kids, they doubtless recognized that I was putting them on, but they wanted to humor me.
The surface of the pond was exploding, erupting, rocking. The goldfish easily avoided the stones. "Keep throwing!" I shouted. "Harder! Buckshot them!" To their credit, my charges were exemplary in energy or resolve, but the fish simply would not cooperate.
It was not part of my scenario for Daniel to lose his balance and go tumbling into the pond up to his waist. Fortunately, he quickly scrambled back to safety. Soaked, dripping puddles, he stood shivering, looking stunned, then troubled, as did his brother. I could hear their unspoken anxiety: What will Mom and Dad say? Will Daniel be punished? I myself was not a little concerned; the incident would not inspire my nephew and his wife to view me as a fit companion for their boys.
Still, I was not without a stratagem to cope with this crisis. "Come boys," I said, "let's move on." My thinking was to extend our time away from their parents, to keep Daniel in the sun long enough for his trousers and gyms to dry sufficiently. When we finally returned to the others, my nephew and his wife had begun to worry in earnest about our prolonged absence.
"A long hike," I said, lamely. Presently the truth came out; Ari leaked the story of the misadventure. I acknowledged to being at fault; my nephew and his wife looked at me quizzically.
Still, misadventure aside, doesn't this incident suggest that I would be an imaginative, fun-loving grandparent? I had an extraordinary role model. My maternal grandfather and I had some wonderful times. Zayde Berel was one of the most important persons in my life. How I loved him! A gentle, thoughtful man, revered by all of the members of his family. To be in his company was to feel protected, cherished, happy.
I owe my very first memory to him. The two of us are walking in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. The air is fragrant with flowers. We do not converse much; a recent Russian emigre, Zayde doesn't understand English, and I do not understand Yiddish. But it was enough simply to be there with him. He is so tall and erect, that I have to look way up to see his kind face. He has such quiet dignity, such menschlichkeit. He points to rocks and trees and birds, speaking Yiddish, as though to teach me their names.
Later, he and I will go to his flat, where he will play a crank-up Victrola, and both of us will tap out recorded tunes on the rims of glasses. He makes a hot cereal for us, and my assignment is to keep stirring what is in the pot. He likes to play a game of hiding things so that I can easily find them — his version of a scavenger hunt — and receive a reward, a homemade cookie, sometimes a hamantasch. Best of all are the times when I sit on his lap, and he vigorously pumps his knees up and down to give me a bumpty-bump-bump ride. I laugh a lot then.
Well, I too could elicit laughter from kids if ever I should be blessed enough to become a grandfather. I can picture spoiling them, hearing them say, "Give me, grandfather. Give me!" I would give. My three children would look on with incredulity at the transformation of the old man. Is this Mr. Tyrant, the Rules Enforcer of their childhood? Mr. Hard Nose, melting like butter?
How can they begin to imagine what I felt recently while holding an infant on my lap. She sat securely on my lap, looking marvelously serene. An enormous wave of contentment, like a soporific, swept over me. I do not recall ever feeling more tranquil. Such moments of bliss are what my children are depriving me of.
Well, if one day this deprivation is going to end, it had better come soon, while I'm still in comparatively good health for a septuagenarian, while I can still hike, beachcomb, throw a Frisbee, ride roller coasters.
Think seriously on it, my children. Think how happy you can make your father.