Growing up, my father was strict, distant and sometimes a downright lousy parent. Today though, he is a warm, funny and very involved grandfather. To be honest, I’ve had mixed feelings about this…
Don’t get me wrong, Dad worked hard when I was a kid. He was a building contractor, and his work often involved starting early in the morning, and travelling throughout different parts of our state.
When Dad came home, he’d eat dinner, read the newspaper and briefly ask me how school was. Our interactions weren’t much warmer than that.
I always saw my father as a distant, authoritative and even intimidating figure. I wanted Dad to come along for my school concerts, give me an occasional hug or even offer life advice. But he never did.
So when I had children thirty-five years ago (I’m now aged 56), I couldn’t recognise the man my father became. Suddenly he was warm, proactive, cheerful and sunny.
As my children grew up, Dad became the perfect grandfather. He pushed them on the swings when they were little, taught them how to fish and was front-row at every school event.
Suddenly Dad would make daggy jokes, laugh at himself and always have time for family. Of course I was thrilled for my children, and they loved their grandfather. But secretly, I felt resentful.
Where was this bright and caring man when I was growing up? Why hadn’t I been taught how to fish? Where was Dad when my brother and I learnt to ride bikes? Why had Dad left child-rearing to my mother?
It was clear that Dad made a much better grandfather, than he ever had a parent. Gradually my unspoken resentment gave way to a realisation: Being a grandfather was Dad’s “do-over”.
My children were benefiting from the parenting skills it took Dad a lifetime to learn. The mistakes he made with me and my brother would not be repeated… Grandparenting was my Dad’s second chance.
Being a grandfather is easier in many ways, I suppose. Dad has more time to dedicate to his grandkids, even though they’re adults now. He regularly calls them and checks in with their going-ons.
Last Christmas, after a few beers, my father finally acknowledged his own contradictions. “I know I wasn’t the best father to you”, he said sadly. “But I’m trying my best to make amends now”.
I suppose Dad’s role in the family has changed. Once he was a provider, the money-maker, the man of our household.
These days he can dote on my grandkids, and show a more sensitive and gentle side. He’s looking forward to becoming a great-granddad soon, and I’ll be a grandparent for the first time myself.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t always perfect”, Dad told me at Christmas. “I promise I’ll always be there for your family now”. These days, that’s good enough for me.