Looking Back

I’m home from our trip to see the grandkids. The visit airlifted me directly into the arms of a fully-formed family. It was a good feeling, but I felt a hole. I did not come by grandfatherhood honestly. It so happens I skipped the entire fatherhood thing. No changing diapers, no yelling at the kids, helping them with homework, biting my nails when they went to school hoping that other kids wouldn’t be mean to them; no re-living a second childhood through my children. That is a good, in a way. I barely got through childhood intact myself although some would beg to differ.

So there I was, bouncing William on my knee, down on the floor face-to-face with him, making him smile and laugh. I was doing what my own father had dreamed of doing with his grandchildren, but was too old to do so when my little brother had children. Hardly seems fair.

What is water?

Before we left Chicagoland, I was in a bookstore – the philosophy department again – and came across David Foster Wallace‘s book This is Water. I read the entire book in the store. It was a short book, a commencement address actually. The gist of it was that higher education’s claim to teach one how to think isn’t the best aspiration. Wallace claimed that the result of a higher education should be to enable one to know what is worth paying attention to and what is not. I wish I had the book in front of me now, since my recollection is rather faulty. What I do remember is Wallace’s admonitions to graduates to be wary about the day-to-day, humdrum rat race of work life. He described it well, as I was reminded of my own work life and why the daily grind is so-called. He told the college graduates of the value of well-directed thinking, sympathy and compassion in the face of mind-numbing routine and responsibility of adulthood.

Where is this leading?

I would love to be able to imbue my grandchildren with the tools to maintain in adult life, the compassion and sympathy they are being taught at home today. I realize my peripheral role in this effort. I dread the onset of the teenagerhood. Teenage years for a child are a time of growth spurts, hormones and growing independence; they are difficult for parents and I can only assume a total loss for grandparents.

Nurture v. nature

My grandchildren are being nurtured in the most kind, loving and firm way by their parents. The older child, now 9 years old, has recently been asking about the life of Anne Frank, and is incredulous at what happened to her. To see her beginning to realize the heartbreak of life at large is sobering.

I only hope that she comes to some kind of understanding within herself to be able to live with the innate unfairness of life, while being able to live her own life. This is not at all a sure thing. As accurate as David Foster Wallace was in his insight, and skillful in portraying compassionate and sympathetic adult life as a way to maintain one’s self, he was plagued by depression. In the end he took his own life.

In some of my recent posts, I have noted that some philosophers and neuroscientists believe that the mind and the body are inseparable. Yes, deficits in certain brain activities (i.e., serotonin re-uptake at synapses) can lead to depression just as some medications can act to alleviate some of this suffering.

No matter how well a child is raised, his or her reaction to the world may not bode well for his or her mental health. I hope I am around well past my grandchildren’s teenage years, in good enough physical condition and with enough influence, to help nurture them past any rough spots in adult life.

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