at 11:43 PM
Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 6 years old.

I have never looked at a photo on my phone for so long. I could not take my eyes off him.

It was a picture of our first grandchild. I hadn’t seen him in person yet. This was our introduction. And it was love at first sight.

Yeah, yeah, I know. We grandparents can be a bit much. There’s nothing quite like one of us armed with a smartphone full of photos and videos.

But we can’t help ourselves. When you hold that child in your arms a switch goes off inside you. I think we are hardwired to go nuts when our kids have kids of their own. Indifferent grandparents wouldn’t have helped the survival of the species.

The old saw about being a grandparent is that it’s great because when you’re done doting on them, you can give them back to their parents. But what that really means is that you feel love unencumbered by responsibility, and that love is a surge of pure, unalloyed tenderness.


But although we appear to appropriate the experience by proclaiming our new identities as grandparents, this is not about us. Quite the contrary. When we hold our newborn grandchild we are acknowledging and celebrating that life does, and will, go on without us.

There is a well-known piece of bumper sticker wisdom advising us that the best things in life aren’t things. I think it’s also true that the special events in your life aren’t special, in the sense of being unique. After all, what is more common than a birth? These events do not distinguish us as much as they connect us in different and powerful ways. Your child is now a fellow parent. You finally understand what your friends who were already grandparents were raving about. You see yourself as just another link in a chain that extends back in time, and you couldn’t be happier.

The lesson that resonates inside all this is that the earth does not revolve around us. But if we are lucky, and stick around long enough, it will carry us to these moments of blessing and joy.

With a Perspective, I’m Paul Staley.

Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.