Tag Archives: grandparents

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.


Guys and Dolls: Chicago Style

4 Dec

 Doing our duty as over-indulgent grandparents, my wife Diane and I   took our grandchildren to the American Girl Doll Place Cafe in downtown Chicago this summer.  This Mecca for girls  is more like a Vegas casino than a toy store.  The lights are bright and there are no windows or clocks on the walls. They want to encourage you to lose track of time. All that were missing were the free cocktails.

With three sisters, our  four year-old grandson, readily  accepts that nearly everything in his environment is pink.  However, we weren’t too sure how he would like spending so much time in a doll store. He’s a pretty tough little guy who spends much of his time playing aggressively with Spiderman and  Batman toys  or fist fighting with his older sister. To secure his interest before the trip, we offered to get him one of the boy American Girl dolls. This boy doll is part of a  set of  twins. He looked at one on-line and said he wanted it and that it looked just like him, which it sort of does. When the dolls arrived in the mail, he had no interest in the female  twin, which went to one of his sisters, but he readily claimed the boy doll,  naming  him Mack (a nice macho name that please his father).

 When we were seated at the American Girl Café there were fuchsia-colored  bows used as napkin rings. The girls wore them on their wrists or made ponytails, while Oliver ended up wearing his as a bowtie. I donated   mine to one of the girl’s dolls.   The waitress also seated the kid’s dolls alongside them in special little seats that attached to the table.    Then she  set a tiny red plate and white mug in front of each doll. The doll seats, plates, and mugs were all conveniently on sale as you departed the store. We had a consultation at the doll hospital on the way out, but avoided the expensive doll hair salon.

  Gender differences in toys have long been observed.  A study  by Purdue University  psychologists  Judith Blakemore  and Renee Centers  in 2005  had college students rate contemporary toys  as masculine or feminine. Wrestling figures , GI Joes,   and Spiderman action figures were all rated among the  strongly masculine toys;  while Barbie’s, Bratz, and American Girl dolls were categorized as  strongly feminine. As you might expect girl’s toys were associated with physical attractiveness, nurturance, and domestic skills, while  boy’s toys elicited  violence, competition, excitement, and danger. It seems like it is these associations that really  distinguish between a “doll” and an “action figure”.

Such gender differences are not limited to humans.  A 2010 study found that young chimpanzees in the wild play in gender-specific ways, much like  humans. Although both male and female chimps play with sticks, girl chimps carry sticks around   like dolls, imitating their mothers caring for infants, according to Richard Wrangham of Harvard University. Male chimps  do less stick carrying and are more likely to use their sticks as probes or weapons. 

            In 1967  Hasbro introduced the 21-inch  “That Kid!”  doll for boys, promoting it as  “your own kid brother”.   He was described as a  “freckle faced rascal!” . Complete with a sling shot, That Kid said smart-alecky  things when you moved him.  The “My Buddy” doll,  made by Hasbro in 1985   had the stated  intention of making a doll that could teach little boys about caring.   It’s not clear whether either of these dolls ever caught on, despite the heavy television advertising.  Ironically both of them are thought by some to be the  inspiration for  “Chucky”, the creepy evil doll from the movie  Child’s Play.    

               Our daughter and son-in-law  didn’t have a  problem  with us buying an American Girl boy  doll for  their son, but some parents and experts are  strongly  opposed to such things. Back in the 1980’s   Mattell  introduce, She-Ra: Princess of Power, as the long lost twin sister of  the popular  He-Man  character. Our kids had all of these action figures, but the story   circulated throughout the kindergarten  that one father took all of his son’s She-ra figures and destroyed them, because he was worried that they were too feminine.

               I don’t  remember ever having a doll when I was a child, but Diane said that her brother Gary had one–  a boy doll that he carried around and called little Gary.

            On his website advice section, television  psychologist  Dr. Phil McGraw  told a mother of a five-year-old boy that she should not let her son  play with “girls’ toys”. The mother had asked for advice about her son, who liked  Barbie dolls and dressing up in  girls’ clothes.  McGraw told her that it was not uncommon  for little boys to be interested in girls’ toys and clothes and  that such play  was “not a precursor”  to being gay.  But he did advise her to direct him in an unconfusing way. McGraw said  “Don’t buy him Barbie dolls or girls’ clothes. You don’t want to … support the confusion… Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys.”

McGraw’s advice opened  up a can of worms. Some parents and experts weighed in  arguing that allowing cross gender play could only encourage gender confusion. The other side, however,   saw such play  as an opportunity to teach boys fathering  skills that’s perhaps becoming important, as more  men take an active role in caring for  children.

Of course, there’s also the question as whether to prohibit  girls from  playing  with  tools or cars, because it   might   confuse their budding gender identity.  Some experts suggest that  allowing freedom in play, allows children to learn  about  both male and females roles and that this can help  them  have insight in  relationships with the opposite sex.

Most authorities, however, do agree that play or specific  toys do  not determine future   sexual preference, which seems to be outside the realm of the parental influence in any case.

Purdue  psychologists Blakemore and Centers  conclude that strongly gender-typed toys were less supportive of optimal physical, social, and mental development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys.

As for Mack, I think his days  are probably numbered. Our grandson doesn’t seem all that attached to him and is quite willing to sling him at any sister who crosses him.

Based on a column appearing in the Southern Indiana News Tribune

Card Sharks

23 Sep

I need to find some new card playing partners. The last time I played, I got taken to the cleaners.  I didn’t win a single hand.   The entire time we played   was filled with insults,  constant  griping,  and complaining. You never saw so much blatant cheating, outside of a New Orleans  Riverboat. And to top it all off,  on the final hand of the day I was soundly ridiculed when I ended up with  the  Old Maid.  I don’t think I’m playing cards with my granddaughters again, any time soon.

You would think such an intelligent five and three year old could be more civilized at card playing. Even before we began the recriminations start flying,  as well as all of the anxiety about being branded a loser. I can’t help it, I’ve always been competitive.   And as for all the cheating,  I can sort of justify that, after all they haven’t learned to  hold their cards so that I can’t see them.

The last time we played, we added a new game called Animal Snap. Animal Snap is a Victorian card game, somewhat along the lines of slapjack. My wife Diane says that she has read that Queen Elizabeth used to play Animal Snap when she was a girl. I suspect her Royal Highness was a tad more courteous and did not try to constantly jam a blue punch ball in Princess Margaret’s face during the game.

We bought Animal Snap game  at a restaurant gift shop.  The cards are tiny and difficult to see. Emanating from some undefined foreign country, they also have   complicated and bizarre drawings of things such as alligators playing golf. You are supposed to shout out “snap” when you turn over a card that matches the card showing on the discard pile.  All those little cards just look like a blue and orange blur to me, so I was the first player to lose all my cards. 

The kids and Diane, are card sharks at  Go Fish, no pun intended. I’m lucky to get a single turn.  When we played this time, I partnered with Rebecca, the youngest. She is a very sweet baby, but a lousy card partner. She was extremely squirmy and kept showing our cards to Tori,  her older sister. She almost cried when anyone would try to take a duck card from us, since she loves ducks so much. Go Fish is very much dependent on the honor system. Since lying about the contents of one’s hand is hard to prevent, it is probably not the best game for us to play.

Old Maid is a  children’s card game said to have originated in China or India. It is  similar to a game called  Chase the Ace. I generally have done better playing “Old Maid”. I use the same strategy my older brother, Norman  used on me many years ago.   If  I get the Old Maid,  I  place that card higher in my hand,  than all the rest,  so it sticks out. The kids used to fall for this every time, but they have wised up and now I  have switched tactics.  I slyly place the Old Maid at the end of my hand and shove up  some  other card as a bluff.  It doesn’t seem to work either. 

Old Maid is no longer politically correct and so recently we have started playing a game called Old Owl. 

The brilliant Tori designed her own Old Maid game. Instead of animals she used the children in her class at school as card illustrations. For the Old Maid  she used a boy named Andrew,  who evidently gets into a lot of  trouble in her class. We suggested that maybe she should use  her teacher or principal instead, but Tori  was scandalized at the very thought of this.

In England there was a rather violent variant of Old Maid called Scabby Queen, in which  losers  are either  rapped on the back of the hand with the deck or have the  deck scrapped across their knuckles.  I don’t think Scabby Queen would go over very well these days and I seriously doubt that Queen Elizabeth ever played it.

Originally published in the Tribune & Evening News (http://newsandtribune.com/)