by Frank Pomata | guest columnist

Like the latest crop of fathers, who have been more engaged in general with their children, many modern grandfathers are taking a more active role in their grandkids’ lives.

So what, exactly, are these modern grandfathers up to?

And how does it impact the lives and development of their grandkids?  Conversely, what effects does this greater involvement have on the grandfather?

Here’s just a few things the grandfather of 2018 is likely doing on a regular basis:

  • Caregiving: 
  • Role Modeling
  • Nurturing
  • Playing: 
  • Passing along family traditions
  • Building resiliency

Reflecting on my own experience as a grandfather, I’ve realized that I am much like my maternal grandfather, Carl. (His name was actually Carmello, but he Anglicized it — like many first and second generation immigrants.)

We lived upstairs from my mother’s parents in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for most of the first nine years of my life before moving to Long Island. 

He and I spent a lot of time together. 

Grandpa Carl was the opposite of most of the other men in my life. He was soft-spoken, well-dressed, articulate, hard-working and a family man. But underneath that surface identity, he was a self-taught musician who had his own “big band,” an amateur boxer, gregarious and vocabulous.

He also loved to drive and I was his sidekick for various misadventures in his sky blue Ford Galaxie 500, which he drove with the passion of an Italian race car driver.

I learned after his death that he used his written/oral command of the English language to help fellow Italian-American immigrants complete government forms, apply for jobs, and obtain their citizenship.

I was profoundly impressed by this altruism on his part, and the fact that he never spoke about it. He just went around and did good deeds for others. I wanted to be like him in  that respect.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my paternal grandfather, Anthony.  He, too, went by an Anglicized name. His birth name was actually Antioco. Grandpa Tony could be difficult to understand because he spoke Italian on the docks where he worked as a longshoreman — and at home, too. So his English was limited at best.

That didn’t mean he wasn’t an intelligent man.  He was also curious about the world.  He was also an accomplished athlete having been a member of the winning 1937 Italian Rowing Team.

The legacy of both of these men, each with his unique world view, experiences, style, limitations, and talents, was passed down to me and shaped the man I am today.

When I became a grandfather, I discovered aspects of my own identity that I hadn’t previously  known existed.  I’ve channeled the legacies of Grandpa Carl and Grandpa Tony in trying to be a good grandfather to my now 6-year-old grandson.

A side benefit has been getting to know and befriend his other grandfather, “Big Ed” as we call him. He and I have bonded over our mutual love of our grandson, but also discovered we share quite a few common interests — even though we’re separated by a couple of decades and very different upbringings.

So while grandfathers can play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren, it’s most certainly a two-way street with us older males gaining much from these little beings in our lives with their curious natures, their ever-changing interests, and the mirroring of ourselves evident in their personalities and behaviors.   

Through them, we now have the license to do things we might have wanted to do anyway, such as jumping in a pile of leaves or visit Legoland. The kids help rekindle old interests put aside decades ago — like collecting Hot Wheels/Matchbox cars, watching Star Trek or Star Wars, and playing sports we once enjoyed.

At 48, I was somewhat apprehensive about becoming a grandfather. Now, six year later, I’ve embraced it as my favorite job title ever.

It’s a role I take seriously, even when we are having fun, knowing that my words and deeds can have a lasting impact.

Can you hear me Grandpa Carl and Grandpa Tony?  Thanks for all you did for me as a kid. Your examples are now impacting my own grandson’s life, so many years later.

Frank Pomata, 53, is an experienced non-profit manager and consultant with expertise in community engagement, education and work-readiness. He currently works for the Suffolk County Departpment of Labor. He lives in Patchogue, Long Island.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash