Monday, July 3, 2017

Parenthood: Week 211 - (Grand)father Of Mine-Part 1

What makes a great grandfather?

I never had a conversation with either of my grandfathers. I never played catch with them, they never took me out on any outings by themselves and I never heard them say, “I’m proud of you,” or “I love you” to me. By most people’s idealized visions of grandfathers, mine would appear to not have been very good grandparents. They would be wrong.

They both lived long and full lives. Both of them saw me go off to college and one of them lived to see me get married. They showed care and support organizing family vacations, and supporting my interests financially at different points in my life. Between us there was a language gap and a culture gap that was too much for us to overcome. My grandfathers had limited English skills and I had limited understanding of Mandarin Chinese, which they spoke. Even more than the language, we lived in very different worlds. They were both born and raised in Taiwan, lived through the conflicts of WWII.  They drank from the cup of Americanism, but they never embraced the identity of being American.

My parents came to America in the late 1970s. Years before I was born in 1982, my parents had decided that they wanted me and my brother to be American. We ate American food, adapted American customs like Christmas (even though weren’t Christians), and primarily spoke English. My dad passed down one to me the parts of American culture that created his own American dream growing up in Taiwan, inspiring a love of 1960s popular music (especially Motown), and the heroics of American cowboys.

We didn’t ignore our Taiwanese heritage, but we didn’t let the food, the art and the customs of Taiwanese culture take overshadow what made my parents love about American culture.

The difference between Taiwanese and American culture is more than food, and films. It’s the way children are raised, the careers that people choose to pursuit, and the way that people receive and show love.

My grandfathers & I were of different countries, cultures and even though we shared history, what we identified as our own history was very different.  I believe my grandfathers did what they could with this space that lay between us.  I have the memory of wonderful hugs my paternal grandfather gave me and the look of pride my maternal grandfather always displayed when he saw me play violin or piano.

I don’t know if my grandfathers could have done more to be involved in my life. I’m not sure if they even wanted to know me better. What I do know is that as I said during my paternal grandfather’s funeral, I am proud of my grandfathers, I am proud to be their grandson and I am proud to know them.

More than anything else, it is this feeling that ensures me that they were great grandfathers.

Next week: Part II, what I've learned from watching my father and as a grandfather to my son.

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