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Home Opinion Oden: Important lessons for first-time grandfather

Oden: Important lessons for first-time grandfather

Friends told me, “Your life will change with grandchildren.” I did not think so. I am basically staid and conservative, a set-in-my-ways widower whose life proceeds without much drama or excitement.

Little did I know the duties grandparents are called on to perform, or what magnetic filial attraction an infant of your bloodline holds – especially when you don’t have to change the dirty diapers.

Plus, I am suddenly sought for my advice as a parent, although the days when my wife and I established our family are 35 years gone. My adult children now consider me an “expert.”

It is a heavy burden. All those years as teenagers when they thought I lacked sense enough to pound sand in a rat hole might have hurt my pride, but it was without the pressure of being perceived a leading authority on something. If I was wrong, it was no surprise.

Memorable family moments my sons recall during their upbringing were due more to luck than any superior parental skill. My wife and I suffered from confusion, doubts, disasters and disappointments while raising them. They just see it from a different perspective.

For example, two weeks after my first granddaughter’s arrival, I received a frantic call from my daughter-in-law. My son, who has never shown much interest in becoming a home handyman, suddenly felt a new father’s compulsion to learn basic carpentry and plumbing skills. This meant a trip to one of the big box stores to invest in a set of rechargeable power tools: circular saw, drill, impact driver, work light, etc.

When a man has these powerful tools at his fingertips, he searches for things to do around the house. My son decided to repair a wobbly shower handle. Simple enough, or it should have been.

My daughter-in-law was halfway between laughing and crying. In the background, I could hear cursing and water gushing. It sounded like a fire hydrant with the valve wide open.

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He had broken the supply line, and a column of water two-inches in diameter was gushing from the handle in a horizontal stream. Good girl that she is, my daughter-in-law took the baby to a dry part of the house and called me for advice. Shut off the water supply, I advised.

I did not think this simple answer qualified me as an expert on plumbing or a leading authority on hydraulic engineering. But she calls me every few days now, seeking tips on do-it-yourself chores that she subsequently performs – successfully, I might add – with her husband’s new power tools. She is quite a handy gal to have around the house.

This event identified me, in their minds, as a valuable domestic resource. I have rendered judgment or advice about colic, diaper rash, teething, what to do with the umbilical cord when it fell off, baby shampoo, developmental progress, how to get rest when the infant insists on nursing every three hours and a myriad of other things related to the care of my granddaughter.

I am not very comfortable giving opinions on breast feeding since I was never equipped for the service. But I recall many of the problems our two sons posed as infants and toddlers. My beloved wife was the expert. I was like wallpaper, occasionally splattered with information that stuck instead of sliding off like gobs of baby’s first strained carrots.

Thankfully, I am also called on to answer questions about how to paint trim work, wire ceiling lights, assemble baby furniture, repair rotten floorboards, check oil levels in the car, refinish furniture and dog obedience. I figure some of my explanations are correct – or at least enough that no one is in danger.

I am secretly proud they turn to me for knowledge and help. I wish my wife could share her extensive experience of raising children. I sense she is involved with a much more important job: Acting as guardian angel for this little girl I already love so much.

When I hold her, I become more convinced that her grandmother and I did a decent job of parenting. And I don’t have to change any diapers – yet.

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Steve Oden
Steve Oden is an award-winning columnist and former newspaper editor in Tennessee and Alabama. His column, "Appalachian Notebook," appears in the Independent Herald bi-weekly.
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