I spent most of August 3, 2018, sitting in a hospital room waiting on the birth of my granddaughter. At 9:11 in the evening, after waiting for almost 13 hours, Lennox Rose finally entered the world. By 10 that night, I kissed Dad and Mom on the forehead and rubbed the little girl’s back and headed home.
Nothing about that story is remotely interesting. . .
. . . Except that, I found a way to become a grandfather without ever having had a single child.
How I Met My Granddaughter’s Father
Eighteen years ago — before I was diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders — I signed up to be a Big Brother with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters charity. The agency impressed upon me that I was expected to go on two outings a month over the course of the next year. I had to sign a sheet of paper that, while probably not legally binding, did its job of letting me know that I was making a promise to a child that would be pretty awful to break.
I was matched with a precocious six-year-old named Taylor. Our first outing was to a Chinese buffet and a pet store. It took less than hour, including drive time, and when it was all over I was deeply concerned I wouldn’t be a good big brother at all. Making conversation was difficult, I wasn’t sure how to act around a stranger’s child, and I’m certain at one point I forgot his name.
Twelve years later, Taylor and I graduated from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program because Taylor was now an adult. They told us at that time that we were the longest active match they had and wished us luck as we entered a new phase of our relationship.
Taylor is now twenty-four years old and, as you can imagine, we’ve been through a lot together. We’ve had high moments, low moments, and every type of moment in between. He was there for my two divorces, my bipolar diagnosis, and two out of three weddings.
Somewhere along the way, he stopped being a volunteer obligation and became something more akin to my child. Both in terms of the responsibility I feel and the love I have for him.
Loving Someone’s Father Doesn’t Make You a Grandfather
The cynics and pessimists of the world — of which I am one — are still incredibly quick to point out that bestowing the title of grandfather on a person because he loves you and probably will love your child is an incredible leap.
If we bring a dictionary into this debate and follow the strictest letter of the words, I’m going to be quickly relegated to “close family friend.” It is, after all the accurate title.
In my life, when it comes to family, accuracy has never played much of a role. My cousin Trish is not really my cousin, as she was born before my uncle married her mom. (She’s the older sister of not the favorite, Athena — and note I said sister, not half-sister.) Also, in case it has escaped you, I’m not even Taylor’s literal big brother.
My father isn’t my biological father, just my real one. At least when it comes to my Dad, I can hear the cynics murmuring, “But he adopted you when you were five.”
Yes, but he met me when I was two and a half. Therefore for almost three years, I was being raised by a man who was not my biological father (yet I called Dad) and then my parents (well, Mom and step-dad if you insist on being “right”) gave birth to my brother (sorry, half-brother) until finally legal paperwork was filed that fixed all that.
Even I can’t find enough cynicism to declare the government made our family what it is. Our family is what it is because we decided it was true. Because dictionaries don’t define families.
How Will I Explain to Little Lennie Who I Am?
Life is messy. People we trust will let us down and people we don’t trust will rise up and show themselves to be worthy of our forgiveness. Our society is filled with complicated issues we have trouble comprehending and yet we are called on to not just understand, but to resolve.
This is not even remotely complicated. I have no memory of meeting anyone in my family who is older than I am. I call my grandmother Granny because that’s her name. That’s who she is — to me.
Someday, Lennie will be old enough to figure out that something is amiss. Other families, she’ll reason, don’t look like hers. She’ll wander over to me, look me in the eyes, and ask for the explanation that everyone else wants: how am I her grandfather?
And the answer will sound much different to her than it will to any of us. Because, unlike the rest of us who are over-thinking this, she’ll begin her question by saying “Grandpa.”