Grandpa Wars

There’s nothing I despise more than a braggart, so trust me when I tell you that what I’m about to say isn’t bragging. I’m simply reporting the facts as they stand. I have a wonderful family, have written 22 books while serving as a Quaker pastor, traveling around the country to speak and teach. I’ve been busy with other things, too. Along with my wife and siblings, I care for my elderly parents. In the past four years, I’ve gutted and restored two homes. To be sure, there have been stressful moments, though by and large I have handled my responsibilities faithfully and well, or so I’ve been told by those in a position to assess my labors. But I am reaching a breaking point, facing a challenge likely to undo me. Christmas is fast approaching, and I have no idea what to get my granddaughter.

Madeline will be turning 1 year old at Christmastime, and likely doesn’t even know about Christmas, but I can’t take that chance. I wouldn’t be worried, except that I’m competing for the Best Grandfather in the World Award against Madeline’s other grandfather, Dale, and I hate to lose. It’s not exactly a level playing field. Dale has 13 grandchildren, a wealth of experience I don’t have, and isn’t above a dirty trick or two, not that there are rules in the Best Grandfather in the World contest, which there aren’t. Still, one would think the contestants would play fair, and Dale clearly isn’t.

Whenever Madeline sees Dale, he’s accompanied by 12 of his grandchildren; all of whom are bent on making sure Madeline enjoys herself. They laugh and roll on the ground and play in the wading pool with her. I’ve seen the pictures. A day at Dale’s house is like Disney World. That Dale would use his other grandchildren to enhance his chances of winning the Best Grandfather in the World Award is ungentlemanly, if not outright devious.
At our house, there are just the two of us, the wife and me. Madeline is our only grandchild so far, so we’re the whole program. Rolling on the floor makes us dizzy and we don’t have a wading pool. Mostly we sit in the living room and hold her and make stupid faces at her. She smiles at us, but we’re starting to think she’s just humoring us. She can’t talk yet, but we’re afraid her first words will be “Get me out of here.”

We have two dogs who try their best to entertain Madeline, but they’re old and arthritic, and don’t know any tricks. Mostly, they just stagger into the living room, all bow-legged and stiff, and collapse on the rug. Do you remember when you were a kid and your parents dragged you to a nursing home to visit your great-aunt Hazel? That’s what a day at our house probably feels like to Madeline.

This Christmas season, Dale will pull on the Santa suit that hangs in his guest bedroom closet, stick a pillow under his coat, and bounce Madeline on his knee, ho-ho-hoing, forging a link in her impressionable mind between himself and the greatest holiday ever invented for kids. At our house, Madeline will get to eat my aunt Doris’ fruitcake and listen to my brother Doug play “The Little Drummer Boy” on spoons. Aunt Doris died five years ago, bequeathing us a decade’s supply of fruitcake. Madeline will spend the day banging her head against the fruitcake in an effort to render herself unconscious.

Despite this, I refuse to give up hope. The Best Grandfather in the World Award is still within my grasp, because I have something Dale doesn’t — a potbelly gut that Madeline can bounce on when we’re watching The Three Stooges. Moe gives Curly a two-fingered poke in the eyes. I start laughing and my stomach shakes, causing Madeline to bob up and down and laugh. Bouncing up and down on a big fat belly is a joy the grandchildren of a skinny grandfather will never know.

Of course, it’s a distinct possibility Madeline will grow up to love both of her grandfathers, believing each of them to be the Best Grandfather in the World, which would take all the fun out of the contest I have going with Dale.