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Niko and proud grandparents

With My Grandson Niko Life Continues

I’ve worn many hats all my life: bank manager, political activist, community organizer, company trainer, committed teacher, die-hard cyclist at one point, husband, and a proud parent. Because each role was or has been challenging, each of them has brought a different kind of fulfilment that has left an imprint on me. But the fulfillment that goes with being a grandfather is quite different.

All grandfathers will no doubt agree with me. But what makes the fulfillment of being a grandfather different?

For years I‘ve watched with great satisfaction my two daughters grow up into smart, mature, responsible, and successful individuals. But nothing can be compared to the joy that I’ve experienced when they themselves have become parents.

My wife and I are currently in Las Vegas to visit our two-week old grandson Niko, the second grandchild in our family. The first time I laid my eyes on him, I immediately felt the difference between Niko and me.

The difference is obvious. For one, Niko is too small and fragile. He can even hardly open his eyes yet. He spends most of the time sleeping.  When awake he sometimes conveys a facial expression, involuntary as it is, that appears to be a smiley face. He moves his hands and feet a lot when I try to touch them.  He has already been circumcised and that’s a huge difference because I was not circumcised as an infant but as a 12-year- old.

When I kissed Niko’s feet and his forehead for the first time, he did not even respond.  Chances are he will not remember such a display of affection from his grandfather when he grows up.

When he is deep asleep on his play swing, I would watch him intently, always ready to pat him when he starts crying – a simple act from someone who wants his grandson to sleep comfortably and a little longer. Again, chances are he will not remember such an act as simple as patting him.

Niko will probably not remember how my wife and I wanted to be with his mom on the scheduled date of her delivery. But he was born several days ahead of schedule, depriving us of the opportunity to hear him cry for the very first time. I missed being a witness to hearing the first sound of his life.

But whatever opportunity I missed to bond with Niko this early is minimized by my realization that life continues no matter what. This helpless two-week old grandson of mine, who appears to have a fragile grip on how his grandfather feels because of his age will, I hope, grow up to be a person of unswerving probity – a quality that we tried to instill in his mother.

This hope is what makes me view Niko and Xavier, my other grandchild, as the bearers of everything I wish for their mothers. They have a family tradition and values to uphold and I expect them to do it. As American author Lois Wyse once said, “Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.”

One of the benefits of being with Niko these days is I can step back and observe  how he is doing, how he is coping with his young  and delicate body.  In the process, I learn something.

By watching Niko when I am left alone with him in the family car, I learn how to be aware of my surroundings. I also become a bit perceptive and sensitive to his needs.

By occasionally cuddling him when his mom and his grandma are busy, I unconsciously resort to singing some lullabies I have not sung for many years. The experience can be cathartic as I recall how I, as an infant, must have been cradled to sleep by my mother singing the same songs.

When I hear him cry, often not quietly, and as I am about to lose my patience, I recall how my own parents must have been patient with me when I was Niko’s age.

When I observe his physical attributes like his long fingers and big feet, my imagination runs wild and paints an image of Niko grabbing a missed shot and dribbling the basketball down the court and making the winning shot for his team.

There is a new world of experience out there made real by the presence of grandchildren. In this new world, we view ourselves and life in general quite differently. We become learners. We become selfless and think nothing but what is in store for our grandchildren in the future.

But just as I think of Niko’s future, I also think of my own. Given our age difference, I may not be able to play basketball with him and teach him a few dirty tricks much as I want to.  If ever we are given the chance to play against each other, he will probably out muscle me. I may no longer have the strength to guard him tightly.

Much as I want to have a positive role in Niko’s life, I also realize that I cannot do everything. I cannot be his parent. My role will be limited. My time is limited.

But at the end, what matters in the overall scheme of things is that as I advance in age, a new life is born that’s still part of me. Life goes on. Having a grandchild calls for a celebration.

Indeed, as Mary Waldrip, a known American author once wrote, “Grandchildren are God’s way of compensating us for growing old.”