A recent (Friday, August 18th) letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal caught my eye. The letter was a reaction to an earlier (August 1st) editorial that characterized America is an "insanely child-centered country". The reaction carefully - and correctly, in my opinion - pointed out the distinction between doting on children and connecting with them. One should not confuse the two. As per the original editorial, we need to be less child-centered when it comes to the doting angle, but, as per the subsequent letter to the editor, we need to be more child-centered when it comes to creating meaningful intergenerational connections. The letter to the editor goes on to cite a plethora of research corroborating the importance of meaningful intergenerational relationships in stemming the onslaught of high risk behavior in kids (substance abuse, violence, anti-social behavior, academic failure, etc.). Makes perfect sense.
This exchange in the Wall Street Journal reminded me of a class of intergenerational relationship that I think is of particular value: the "skip-generation" relationship. The relationship between a grandson and a grandfather is a typical (but by no means the only) example. In my own experience, I have found that even the most subtle and brief skip-generation connections can leave incredibly profound, lasting impressions. Impressions that help reinforce and shape subsequent lifetimes of beliefs and behaviors.
For example, my two grandfathers left very lasting impressions on me, despite the fact that we spent relatively little time together. It would be quite an ambitious project to do sufficient justice to those deep impressions here, so instead of attempting to articulate them in detail, I will just engage in a very brief free-association and share a few photos in hopes that they might convey at least a flavor of what was passed along.
Grandpa Herb (my paternal grandfather): firm handshake, eye contact, the gentle sing-song "hellooOOoooOOooo"; respectful, humble, straightforward, simple, clean, meticulous, practical, athletic; organized toolbox, handy pocketknife, sturdy monogrammed HMD bar glasses, Stanford University.
"Buddie" (my maternal grandfather): the name says it all, ready chuckle, twinkling eyes, arrowheads, stetson hat, bolo tie, aromatic cigar, the ranch, the land, my mother's beloved "Daddy" (that's her hand on his shoulder below).
As parents, I think we have a responsibility to facilitate these connections without trying to artificially shape them - to create the opportunities without trying to guide the outcomes.
I am also convinced that technology can play a positive role in facilitating meaningful everyday skip-generation connections. Email, online photo sharing, streaming audio/video and all kinds of other emerging technologies present intriguing new opportunities to forge meaningful connections and break down traditional barriers of geography and time.
That reminds me, I need to upload those photos of my son's birthday this weekend so the grandparents can check them out. Should spark a conversation or two...