The primal nature of family life is most deeply felt through the phenomena of emergence and disappearance. A birth within a family ushers in the celebration and expansion of family life; a death in the family ushers in the grief and the contraction of family life. Inside every family the life moves through us in magnificent intimacy. My wife and I became grandparents for the first time, and moved through an age-related milestone in life.
There is a new life inside our family whose emergence into the world has transformed the feeling of being alive. As I reflect upon the essence of family, aging, parenting, fatherhood, motherhood, and now on becoming a grandfather, I realize that my own sense of being, identity, aliveness, and place in the world has already started to change in ways I can barely perceive.
I never had the benefit of knowing my own grandparents, with the exception of one grandmother. My father’s father passed away when he was quite young. My father’s mother passed away the day after I was born. My mother’s father passed away just outside the reach of my own memory, while memories of her mother remain vibrant.
My experience as a grandchild is limited and I am left imagine what a grandfather can be without ever having known my own grandfathers.
The idea of being a grandfather is sometimes associated with being “old.” Now in my mid-fifties and firmly entrenched in the second half of life, I have already felt a significant shift in the feeling of being alive. For example, I have learned that time cannot be measured on a clock; time approaches us in waves of unexpected profundity.
Time is not a system of measurement; time emerges into our life as potent thresholds of personal transformation that surrounds us, permeates our spirit, and requires us to release the provisional identities we have so frantically and nervously assembled for ourselves. Time helps us to reclaim and renew the wonder, immensity, and impenetrable mystery of our own existence.
A grandfather is far more than a convenient form of classification in a family hierarchy. To become a grandfather is to experience a deeper unfolding of consciousness and personal transformation. Through the remarkable presence of my grandson, a sacred gift from my daughter and son-in-law, I can say that the feeling of being in the world is evolving in ways I cannot yet comprehend. I intuitively sense that there are aspects of my own identity that are waiting to be liberated. I feel closer to the raw nature of life. Time seems to be calling out to me from an unfamiliar place.
In essence, the birth of my grandson has transformed the feeling of being alive.
When I hold my grandson I know with absolute certainty that I am in the presence of a miracle. His presence is an inspiration to become something more than I had planned. There is, of course, a feeling of being older, but only older in the sense of becoming an elder, that is to say, of becoming a positive source of influence, hope, and comfort in the life of my grandson. To become a grandfather is to embark on an entirely new spiritual pilgrimage in quest of becoming a better human being.
John O’Donohue offered deeply inspiring insights about old age as an inner harvest. A core responsibility of every family member is to harvest the lessons of life as best we can in order to develop deeper insight and wisdom that can be generously offered to our descendants. Through the birth of my grandson, I begin to recognize that elderhood is an opening up of being and a cultivation of fundamental human capacities such as gratitude, generosity, joy, wonder, belonging, reverence, and kindness.
To become a grandfather is to experience a sense of renewal in the felt-meaning of life. To become a grandfather is not merely to assume a predefined role; it is to experience an evolution of being. I am not the same person I was before my grandson was born. Through his presence, I will change in ways I cannot foresee.
However, there is something I have already learned with absolute certainty.
A grandchild is a profound source of love and a remarkable source of inspiration. To become a grandfather is to renew and revitalize the essential task of becoming a better human being, but this time with the innate desire to offer something of enduring value to my grandson as he finds his own way through the mysteries and wonder of living long after I am gone.