Tag Archives: Family

Grandpa’s Image

13 Jan




For the most part being a grandfather is a good gig.   Parents and grandmothers shoulder the real responsibilities like civilizing the  little darlings and  changing dirty   diapers.  That pretty much leaves the good stuff like  playing games, reading stories, or generally goofing off. My only complaint about the job is that collectively we have such a  lousy   image.

Whenever my granddaughters draw a picture of me a few things stand out. First of all grandma rules. I am always much smaller than my wife Diane and my hands and arms are drawn stunted and ineffectual  compared to hers.  While my actual wardrobe may leave much  to be desired, they seem  to think  I exclusively wear primary colors of the clown persuasion. However, the unkindest cut of all  is that my hair is symbolized by a  white vertical line slashed above each ear— nothing on top. There is a certain elegance that even Picasso could admire in  being  able  to so thoroughly insult both the color and quantity of my hair in two simple strokes. I can live with this visual image but what deeper meaning does it represent?

Let’s face it, the media has not been very kind to grandparents  in general and grandfathers in particular. For us baby boomers, the grandpa archetype was firmly established by actor Walter Brennan as Grandpa Amos McCoy on the television series The Real McCoys. Bib overall wearing and politically incorrect Grandpa McCoy was crotchety and interfering and if he wasn’t insulting his long suffering  daughter-in-law, Kate,  he was racially insenstive and verbally abusing the hired help– Pepino.

 Real McCoy’s writer Paul Henning, who should be on the AARP’s hit list, is also single-handedly responsible  for the rowdy  grandfather on the Bob Cumming’s Show,  Granny from the  Beverly Hillbillies and  worse of all “That’s Uncle Joe, he’s a moving kinda slow” from Petticoat Junction. Thanks a lot Paul.

Grandpa McCoy was  just one in a long line of curmudgeon grandfatherly types whose gruff exterior usually melts in the presence of some curly-haired waif. This  theme is repeatedly seen in  works of literature like  Heidi, Silas Marner, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Little Colonel,  and a host of  others.

I suppose I prefer the curmudgeon grandparent  to the comically incompetent or mildly brain damaged one  we sometimes see in characters like the senile Grandpa Simpson the or the impulsive Sophia Petrillo from the Golden Girls.  Charlie Buckett’s Grandpa Joe from Roald Dahl’s  Charlie and the  Chocolate  Factory is a slight improvement. Although feeble and somewhat feckless,  he is at least affectionate, supportive,  and apparently slightly more sane than Willie Wonka.

Even better, however,  are the suave pipe-smoking grandfathers dressed in tweeds in movies like Disney’s The Parent Trap. At one point  in the original version the granddaughter says “Grandfathers smell like  tobacco and mints”. I have to admit that would be an improvement  over most grandfather’s I have  actually smelled, including myself.   Realistically   the best case scenarios  is  beer, brats,  and  perhaps 30 weight motor oil.

In the newspapers, grandfather’s have a positive but vulnerable image.   Bill Keane’s Family Circus featured a ghostly grandfather   and worried for month’s when  Lynn Johnson was  fixing  to kill off Grandpa Jim in her For Better or Worse  comic strip.  Jim was  an admirable  and resilient character who loves to dance,  played in  a band,  and was a respected war veteran, but the last strips he was in   focused  mostly on his  deteriorating health.  It was looking for  a long time that  Grandpa Jim would soon be meeting Farley, the family dog that Johnson previously dispatched to such great effect.    

Some where in the middle of all this is Donald Crisp’s sympathetic  portrayal of Grandpa Spencer in the  popular 1963 family film Spencer’s Mountain.  I can only remember one scene from the movie, and that is where Grandpa Spencer finds his old piggy bank laying on the ground and he starts shaking it,  trying to see if it still contains money. While he’s doing this,  he is crushed  by a large falling tree. Evidently his hearing was so poor he did not hear the tree or the warnings shouted by his son (Henry Fonda).  It may just be me, but I don’t think this movie was very grandfather friendly. It was written by Earl Hamner, Jr.   and became the basis for the saccharine  television series  The Waltons.   

Of course we baby boomers have to take some of the responsibility for the current image of grandparents since we invented the culture  of youth and took perverse pride in not trusting anyone over thirty.  The chickens have come home to roost. We also cling to the  belief that we are perpetually young and reject many traditional beliefs including how we approach grandparenting.  This  was aptly demonstrated by the character portrayed by Dyan  Cannon  in the 2001 sitcom Three Sisters.   She insisted that her grandchildren call her “goddess” instead of “grandma”. 

Perhaps  now is the time to reconstruct the image  of  grandfathers and make them more positive than just curmudgeonly  hillbillies, incorporeal ghosts,  or self-absorbed yuppies. Maybe grandfathers could even change a few diapers now and then. Just remember to be alert for falling trees,  somewhere out there is a sycamore  with your name on it.


Spending More Time these Holidays

23 Nov

In this year of unprecedented financial stress, University of Denver psychologist Martha Wadsworth says our holidays should emphasized what science has repeatedly demonstrated to be most important— quality family time. She is quoted as saying, “Psychological research has shown over and over again that what truly makes people happy is not money, not stuff, it’s time with people you love.” Just yesterday most people engaged in what Melanie Wallendorf and Eric J. Arnould have called a “collective ritual that celebrates material abundance enacted through feasting”… aka Thanksgiving Day. In an article written in the Journal of Consumer Research, university professors Wallendorf and Arnould minutely dissected and analyzed the American Thanksgiving. They found that with the Thanksgiving meal as the obvious centerpiece, Americans engaged in a predictable range of activities to reinforce family identity. Gallup polls say that more than nine out of 10 Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends, while only four percent dine alone. The most frequent Thanksgiving activities include: • Watching parades on television. We usually encourage the kids to watch parades, to keep them busy while the meal is being prepared. Unless Santa is directly involved, however, their attention spans are usually rather short. This is often an opportunity for family elders to instruct the upcoming generation in the fine art of television parade watching. Grandparents make comments to uncomprehending youngster’s like, “Ooh, look at the big Turkey with a Pilgrim’s hat on.” or “Isn’t that Underdog?” Elders may also provide invaluable tips like, “Always use the bathroom when Al Roker comes on, or when they start performing Broadway show tunes.” • Napping. The heavy meal often takes its toll and leads to reflexive afternoon napping or “slumbery fun” as our son-in-law calls it. Just how napping contributes to family cohesion is unclear to me. Unconsciousness is undoubtedly less risky and often preferable to actually talking to family members. • Taking a walk. After the main meal, many families decide to take walks, as a respite to build up the appetite before dessert time, sort of like the ancient Roman employed vomitoriums. Some people deluded themselves that they will “walk off the meal”. Given the caloric content of the typical American Thanksgiving meal, one would roughly have to walk from Chicago to St. Louis. I have been on these Thanksgiving strolls and with a little luck you might be able to walk off a cranberry or two. • Watching football. This male dominated activity is usually a post-meal activity and often overlaps with the previously described perennial favorite– tryptophan induced napping, especially if it’s a Detroit game. • Viewing family photographs. Many families view old family pictures on Thanksgiving. This builds family solidarity and helps initiate potential family members (boyfriends and girlfriends) to the traditional stories and myths that define the family. I have always hated that picture of me and some other kid wearing nothing but diapers chasing chickens around in some unknown barnyard. It was always good for a laugh, but I remain unamused. With digital photography we take more photos now than ever (including a lot of really bad ones), but since we print fewer copies, this activity now involves looking at pictures on computer screens. Somehow, it’s not the same as thumbing through those old albums with the black corner photo holders, or shoe boxes full of photos. • Storytelling is also a frequent Thanksgiving pastime. These stories usually deal with bad times and unfortunate events that may now be recounted with laughter. Many are about cooking disasters or other displays of foolishness or incompetence. For example, I must have heard the cautionary tale of Uncle Marion cooking spaghetti in the pressure cooker, while drunk, hundreds of timed in my childhood. Granted there is nothing funnier than noodles stuck to ceiling, but give it a rest. Occasionally these stories can ignite old grievances, which lead to the most common of Thanksgiving activities– squabbling. • Playing games. Board and cards games have been very popular in the past but technology has added video games to this mix. If competition gets out of control and alcohol is flowing too freely, this activity intended to bond the family, is ripe for creating dissention. • Watching movies. Finally Many families make a tradition of watching certain Christmas movies such as Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, or one of the animated seasonal features. Often snatches of dialogue or memorial quotes are even memorized. But do we really want to spend more time with our families? Comedienne Julia Sweeney suggests that the thought of spending eternity with her family in heaven was one of the factors that drove her to atheism. Jack Shafer from Slate, the online magazine, writes that the claim you want to spend more time with your family is a familiar alibi for people leaving embattled workplaces. His search of the Nexis media database showed that at least twice a day somebody tells the press that they “have swapped the horrors of work for the bliss of family”. Last year Charles Pickering a Mississippi congressman who left Congress, said he did so he could spend more time with his family. When a short time later Pickering announced he was divorcing one sarcastic columnist said that he should have announced he was quitting Congress to spend more time with the other women he had been running around with. Earlier this year a University of Southern California survey found that 28 percent of Americans were concerned that they were now spending less time with their families. The internet may be partially to blame as 44 percent of participants said they were sometimes or often ignored because other family members spend too much time online and even more (48 percent) said they were ignored because others watching too much TV. In some homes this is known as spending too much quality time with your square-headed girlfriend. Individual perceptions may be deceiving , however. A University of Maryland study showed that in 1965 mothers spent only 10.2 hours a week with their children in quality time (feeding, reading, playing). That declined in the ’70s and ’80s, but by 2007 mothers were spending more than 14.1 hours per week, higher than ever. Even then, many mothers still felt guilty and unable to meet unreasonably high cultural expectations. In 2006 CareerBuilders.com reported that a survey of working dads revealed that 40% said they would stay at home and take care of the kids, if their partner earned enough money. Even more (44 %) said they were willing to take a pay cut to spend more time with their children. Respondents expressed concern that they were missing out on major moments in their children’s lives, with 58 % saying they missed at least one significant event. So perhaps people who quit jobs, are occasionally truthful when they say they want to spend more time with their families. Maybe some of us are like Supreme Court Justice Souter, whom David Letterman said retired to spend more time judging his family. Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com or 812-206-1234. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at https://planetterry.wordpress.com.