Anne Lamott, one of my favourite writers, recently posted on her website, an excerpt, On Becoming A Grandmother, from “her favourite book”, Some Assembly Required (Riverhead Books, USA, 2012). Reading it, I was prompted to reproduce the essay which I wrote and was published in the now-defunct on-line Project Eyeball back in 2000. That letter had been preceded by an essay, “Letter to My Future Children” written by my daughter, Wen Lin, in the same paper. 15 years after its publication, and almost 4 years after I became one, I find myself still abiding by those sentiments about being a grandfather.
“My dear (future) grandchildren,
In recent weeks, your (future) mother and my daughter, Wen Lin has been making various promises to you, her future children, and my future grandchildren.
Much of what Lin has committed herself to teach you, or do for you, I wish my parents (that is, your future great grandparents) had done for me. It’s not that they didn’t want to or didn’t try. It’s just that most of the time they were struggling just to put a roof over our heads and food on the table, and to keep us in school for as long as possible. Those issues probably weren’t unimportant to them, but there were always more urgent bread-and-butter issues on their minds. Towards the end, they simply got too tired.
Still in their own hapless way, they must have imparted to me some lasting values, some of which I, in my own haphazard way, must have been allowed to rub off on your mother. Growing up, she did not have the opportunity to know either of her grandfathers, that is, your great-grandfathers. Her maternal grandfather had died before my wife, your grandma, and I got married, and her paternal grandfather – my father – had been rather sickly when your mother was born, and died a few years later. Wen Lin has no memories of one, and very little of the other.
I can’t tell if I will live to see any of you born, or watch you grow up. But if God should bless me to be around to spend some time with you, I would like to make you some promises, as your mother did.
Firstly, I want you to know I will love you regardless of your racial mix, looks, intellect or physical condition. That you are my daughter’s children is good enough for me. I must confess though, that I would initially have some difficulty if you were gay. But I think I can learn in time to accept you for what you are, even if I don’t condone how you live.
You will have my support for most things, but will also be made aware of my disapproval or face my displeasure for others, which I deem morally wrong or socially irresponsible. Just because you are my grandchildren doesn’t make them right. Your mother got no breaks from me either.
As a grandfather, I promise to love but not to dote. Doting is the prerogative of your parents, not mine. If they can manage it without turning you into brats, all power to them. If they can’t, you’ll be brats of their making, not mine.
I promise not to compete with your parents for your attention or your affection. If you choose to return my love for you, I would feel privileged and blessed. But I don’t need you to love me in any greater measure than you do your parents to justify my grandfatherly existence.
I promise to frequently remind your parents to treasure their time with you. They must take time to enjoy every phase of your lives – even those crazy, turbulent “psycho-teen” years. Each phase is unique, because you are going to pass through it only once. And you will whiz through each phase so fast. Your mother did.
I promise to try to dissuade your parents, especially your father, of the notion that quality time makes up for quantity time. When one is hungry, one needs food that fills, not morsels which thrill. Your yearnings will be for more time, not just good times. So heed my words, future son-in-law and Wen Lin’s husband, if you are reading this: It’s both the quality and the quantity, stupid.
When it comes to discipline, I promise not to intervene nor interfere. I won’t incite them to use the rod, but I am a firm believer in the old axiom that if you spare it, you spoil the child. Having said that, I’ll pray each time that they remember to punish in love, tempering judgement with a generous dose of mercy.
When it’s time to choose your vocation, I’ll help, if necessary, to intercede with your parents to allow you to follow your hearts. These are your lives, which your parents cannot live for you. Neither should they try to vicariously live theirs through yours. Only two caveats, whatever you children do must be lawful, and it must enable you to become self-supporting. Lin has been down that road before, so I suspect she won’t lay different tracks for you. My sense is, she will, in like fashion, advise you, guide you, and leave the choices to you.
Lastly, I promise, God willing, to keep myself in reasonably good health, physically, financially, and spiritually. The better to enjoy my time with you. More importantly, so that I will not become a burden to you and your parents. You have a lot of living to do, and a stricken grandfather will only slow you down.
These pledges I make to you, I make also to your cousins, the future children of your uncle, your mother’s brother. You see, I don’t practise favouritism or discrimination, regardless of whether you carry my family name or not.
It leaves me now to ask you just one question: What promises will you make to your parents? I’m interested to know, because one of them is my daughter.
With all my love,
Lin is now the mother of two lovely and adorable kids, Zafr, aged 4 in a couple of weeks’ time, and Inara, most recently turned 2. Lin’s husband, Amir Shamsuddin, is probably the most hands-on father I have ever come across.