by Jim Caccamo
In August of 1985, my father passed away. Fortunately, I talked with him just the Sunday before. He shared that he felt 22 years old inside but that when he looked in the mirror he saw an old man. Dad added that he couldn’t carry two bags of groceries up a flight of steps without getting exhausted. On Tuesday the 6th he passed away.
My dad’s death slammed home the fact that, in my nuclear family, I was now the patriarch, the oldest male of my family. Our sons had just moved up a notch to being the second-generation males.
Dad’s death also started me thinking more about what he had given me and what was his legacy. Neither of my grandfathers were living during my childhood. I had no one to impart grandfatherly wisdom. The job of teaching me and my brothers the wisdom of the male Caccamo’s fell solely to my dad.
Yes, of course, mom taught us wisdom too, but from a motherly perspective. For example, my mom taught us that we were known by the company we kept so it was important to select friends carefully. My dad, on the other hand, added that we were also known by the company we didn’t keep, so staying away from bad people was also very important.
Not having grandfathers on whom I could rely for modeling the art of teaching wisdom, I did rely on my dad. As our boys grew up, their grandfathers provided pearls of wisdom for them. There is nothing that can match the wisdom of age and experience.
Sixteen years later on May 3, 2001, our daughter-in-law and son had their first child. Just seven weeks later, June 22, our other daughter-in-law and son had their first child. Becoming a grandfather touched me deeply.
You might be wondering why it is so important for a grandfather to support the parents in transmitting wisdom. Surely my parents taught me – why can’t our grandsons’ parents teach them? Well, they can and will. But in today’s society, with the stressors on families and with grandparents being healthier and living longer, why not be supportive to our grandchildren and pass down the wisdom of our life’s experiences? Also, the birth of our grandchildren caused me to give serious thought to what my legacy might be with the next generation.
Because our sons and daughters-in-law live in other cities, we made the decision that our grandchildren were going to know us. We travel frequently to see them and talk to their families at least weekly.
The technology of digital photography has also helped support my ensuring that our grandchildren have a very specific idea as to who we are. We share photographs on a regular basis.
In addition, I began writing the grandchildren when they were fetuses. Yes, I know it sounds crazy but there is a real commitment on my part to their knowing me.
So, with my word processor fired up, the letters began. Several times a month they receive a letter. Each time, I try to impart some wisdom.
Here are some examples of the wisdom shared with my grandchildren. I know too that my sons and daughters-in-law are touched and reminded of important life lessons with these examples of wisdom. Keep in mind that all of these bits of wisdom were framed within the body of the letter.
• Grandfatherly wisdom: when people don’t know how describe a food’s taste, they usually say, “It tastes like chicken.” So, be on guard. Try different foods and make your own judgments.
• Grandfatherly wisdom: – You will learn as you get older that there are always people who won’t like you although they might not even know you. Your grandfather has an axiom by which he has tried to live. It is called the “Rule of the Thirds.” It goes something like this: one-third of the people will like you regardless of what you do; one-third of the people won’t care about you regardless of what you do; and, one-third of the people won’t like you regardless of what you do. So, the moral of the story is do what you know is right. Trying to make decisions to please others is not going to work, in the long term. With that said, you have many years of learning before you get to the point of having enough knowledge and experience to know what is right.
• Grandfatherly wisdom: Eat well and in moderation.
• Grandfatherly wisdom: You cannot sit back and complain about things without trying to make it better. Complaining doesn’t get the job done. If fact, it doesn’t even make you feel better. So, when you don’t like something, get in there and try to make it better.
• Grandfatherly wisdom: We live in a democracy. Your responsibility as a citizen is to give back to the system in order for our democracy to work. Jury duty is an important part of our democracy. People who are charged with a crime are entitled to a jury of their peers. So, we all serve to see that our judicial system works.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: The older you get, the faster time seems to pass. I think this phenomenon has to do with the relationship between time and the length of your life. So, for you, being just over a year old, one month is one fifteenth of your life. But, for me, it is one six hundred sixty-fourth of my life. You see, your month is so much more of your life than mine is of my life. Anyhow, this might be too hard for you to grasp now but someday you’ll get it.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: community service—giving back to the community—is a very good thing for you to do. We are gifted and we should be good stewards of these gifts by sharing them.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: it is easier to get things done when the person in charge agrees with the direction in which you want to go. So, take the time to build relationships and support before you move forward.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: Sharing special times with people you love makes the experience even more special.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: Life is built on relationships. Take the time to get to know people and to reveal a bit of yourself to others.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: It is not easy to like some people. Some people won’t like you. But remember, hatred is not diminished by hatred. It is diminished only by love.
• Grandfatherly Wisdom: if you can’t help out a friend in need, what good is your friendship? As the old saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” It is in times of need that we must step forward to help.
If your grandchildren are going to learn values, if you are going to leave a legacy, who better to support your children in transmitting wisdom to their children than you?
Grandfathers, we have much to share. Take a second and make a difference by sharing your wisdom with your grandchildren.
Jim Caccamo is director of the Metropolitan Council on Early Learning at the Mid-America Regional Council in Kansas City. Previously, he helped bring children’s issues to the forefront as Executive Director of the Partnership for Children. Nothing gives him more joy than being an involved father and grandfather.