One of the advantages of having small children is that we get invited to a lot of birthday parties. At the most recent, a party for a newly minted 6-year-old, I saw something distressingly rare. Both parents of the boy we were there to celebrate come from unbroken homes. His four---and only four!---grandparents were in attendance. And they behaved the way grandparents were once known to behave.
By way of illustration, let me explain what this does not mean. The grandmothers were not trying to run the home or pester the poor mother into a state of nervous breakdown. The grandfathers were not camped in front of the television. There was no attempt to show up one another with extravagant gifts. There was no competition for attention.
Instead they behaved, well, like mature, loving adults. What surprises me is that I was surprised. Surprised to see the grandfathers take 11 children outside to fish, and teach those who didn't know how. Surprised to see their conversations directed toward the children, toward other people, and not toward themselves. Why was I so surprised?
Perhaps my surprise stems from the fact that I know hardly anyone whose parents have stayed together. Most of the children I know have step-grandparents, or significant others oddly attached to their grandparents, or at events like this the odd-man-out grandparent, who must play nice with the new spouse of his former spouse. Still, there's no reason these odd mixtures of original and add-on grandparents can't take children fishing, and make the occasion about someone other than themselves, is there?
Or is there?
Figuring that out is beyond my wisdom. All I know is that I left that birthday party refreshed and slightly wistful. Refreshed to see good, loving people who care more about all the children around them than about themselves. It fills up the soul, doesn't it, to see someone pour himself out in love? I left feeling wistful because it must be so good for a young family to have sturdy, loving, sacrificial guides in their lives, yet so few of us do. Too many parents I know have strained relationships with their own parents, or worse, are in effect the "parent" in that relationship (this seems especially true of those with Baby Boomers for parents). I find myself praying now that I will be not only a good father, but also a good grandfather. Being a good parent, it seems, is to continually diminish. Would that more of us learned that lesson.