They say that a special thing happens when a man has a daughter. My dad had two. He would likely describe that special thing as anxiety. Having two daughters of my own now, I understand. Raising girls is challenging, humorous, and full of adventure. My only knowledge of my dad before he had daughters is through stories I hear. Many of those stories involve how his career was started and his passion for tennis. They don’t provide me with a context of how he changed with the addition of his two girls. With the addition of my two girls, however, I was allowed to watch my dad become a grandpa. If something special happens to a man when he has a daughter, then something revitalizing happens when a man becomes a grandpa.
Two years ago, on Mother’s Day, Maddie joined our family, and I got to watch my dad fall in love all over again. The arrival of his fourth grandchild and second granddaughter was no less marked than the previous visits to the labor and delivery floor. He was taken with her and she with him. Sitting in the hospital chair, they silently made promises to each other. He would watch over her and guide her only the way a grandpa can. She would adore him and take in his wisdom.
It’s a blessing that promises to leave room for flexibility. While my dad’s relationship with each of his grandchildren is special, his relationship with Maddie is unique. Simultaneously tender and challenging. In only the way that she can, Maddie has charmed her way into her grandfather’s heart, melting it each time she walks through the door with her infectious smile. After gaining a full grasp of his heart, Maddie has had her fun. Equal to her infectious smile is her propensity toward mischief. And no one suffers that propensity more than grandpa.
In each family are traditions and times that you can’t remember being any different than they are today. Fourth of July follows a certain flow for my family, and I cannot remember a Fourth of July that did not include my dad in his favorite American flag shirt, a one-of-a-kind Goodwill find that cloaked him in patriotism each year. It was hideous, and he loved it. At the tender age of two months, Maddie already had a sense that this shirt was important. Drawn to its colors, she tugged at it as he held her during the festivities. She drew him in with her infant charms, and then let a large, mustard-yellow load out, creating an epic stain on the beloved iconic shirt. It is a myth that two-month-olds do not smile with joy.
In the realm of joy, my dad has taken a lot of joy in his life of teaching bad table manners. First to his daughters with the burping of the alphabet and now he enjoys similar games with the grandkids. Though, it has proven tough to play games with my girls, who are naturally gifted with terrible table manners. On a particularly moody evening that did not include a lot of eating on Maddie’s part, Grandpa decided to pull out the age-old trick of fly the airplane of food into her mouth. It worked. She thought it was hilarious, and Grandpa thought he was the mightiest man to ever live. It was even more endearing to him when making similar plane noises she made her way to her grandpa’s mouth with her spoon. Then the glint in her eye came as the plane quickly made a u-turn right back to her mouth leaving only a devilish smile in its wake.
Dad’s joy of the dinner table does not extend much past the family home, however. Eating out with small children is a strong source of anxiety for him. Though he’d tell you he is cool, calm, and collected, the general inability to keep their hands and legs contained in the small area allowed by the chair and the possible disruption to those around us is more than he cares to deal with. Out to eat for breakfast on his sixtieth birthday, Dad was hiding his child-in-restaurant anxiety well. In fact, I was pretty proud. Maddie, on the other hand, picked up on it instantly. She caught his eyes watching her chocolate milk as she transported it to and from her mouth. A few months shy of two years old and ready to take on the world, she wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip past. She took a sip of milk, checked to be sure he was watching, then set the cup down on the table just so that it stayed, but was dangerously close to falling. Instinctively, he moved it further in. She didn’t let on at first, getting all the joy out of it that she could. Then she took a slow sip out of her straw, eyes on Grandpa, and lowered it slowly, watching him react, and moving the cup closer to falling on the ground. He lurched, and she lost it, belly laughing like only a two-year-old can in her high chair.
Like the dining out experience, some opportunities for messing with Grandpa come about quickly and need to be seized in the moment. Another scene at the dinner table found Grandpa in a particularly helpful mood. He was clearing plates and cups from the dinner table after all five of the grandkids completed their meals. Spotting some stray food on the floor, he bent down to retrieve it with a napkin leaving his balding head exposed and at the perfect level for Maddie. Without hesitation, Maddie grabbed a handful of macaroni and cheese and smushed it solidly on his head. It was a clean and easy score.
My dad describes himself in a couple of words: patient, easy-going, with a particular knack for going with the flow. He is none of those things. But, with Maddie he is. Each instance of trickery and mischievousness is met with surprise and then patience and a grin. They’ve made promises to each other, and they are intent on keeping them. There’s just a little bit of fun mixed in to keep it interesting.