Trying to put grandparenthood into words

A writer and first-time grandfather tries to explain the complicated emotions associated with spending time with his new grandson.

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  • Editor's note: This article has been published in the Gwinnett Daily Post. It has been republished here with permission.

  • As a writer, I used to scoff at people who say, "There are no words." Of course there are words. There are always words.

  • However, after spending two weeks with my new grandson, I now understand what those people mean. When you hold your first grandchild in your arms . . .

  • Well, there simply are no words.

  • And yet, because I'm a writer, and have this column to write, and hope maybe to say something that resonates with other grandparents or grandparents-to-be, I feel compelled to try a few words, anyway.

  • I recognize, by the way, that I'm also guilty of something else for which I've occasionally sneered at others: thinking I invented something just because it's new to me.

  • So for the record, I understand that I didn't invent grandparenthood. I'm just in the process of perfecting it.

  • The first thing that surprised me about my grandson is how breakable he seems. I don't mean there's anything wrong with him physically; he's actually quite a strong, healthy little boy, thank the Lord.

  • It's just that holding him makes me think about how fragile life is, in a way I never thought about with my own kids. I used to just throw them over my shoulder, hang onto them with one hand and go about my business. I never worried about dropping them or them getting hurt. I figured they were tough. And they were.

  • But the temptation to treat my grandson like he's made of glass is almost overpowering. Maybe that's because he's not actually my kid. Or maybe the stakes just seem higher: If anything happened to him, it wouldn't just devastate me, it would devastate my daughter, which would devastate me even more.

  • And that abiding sense of fragility goes beyond physical well-being. I also have an overwhelming desire that nothing bad ever happen to him. And I mean nothing. Ever.

  • Of course I didn't want bad stuff to happen to my own kids, either, especially really bad stuff. But I always understood that bad stuff would inevitably happen, I couldn't always prevent it and I wouldn't necessarily be doing them any favors if I somehow kept them from ever facing adversity. That's how children develop strong moral character.

  • With my grandson, though, I find it difficult to contemplate any of that. I just don't want bad stuff to happen to him, period.

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  • I've always heard people say that being a grandparent is better than being a parent. I'm not sure that's true. Being a parent has been perhaps the greatest experience of my life, up to this point.

  • But I have to say, even based on my limited experience, being a grandparent is at least as good: all the joy and wonder of parenthood, without some of the hassles.

  • And if that explanation doesn't help you understand — well, it's the best I can do with the words I have.

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Rob Jenkins is a newspaper columnist, a happily-married father of four, and the author of "Family Man: The Art of Surviving Domestic Tranquility," available on Amazon. E-mail Rob at or follow him on Twitter .

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