Separated by 81 years…how I wish the oldest could pass on his wisdom to the youngest of our clan

It was my Father-in-Law’s 85th birthday on January 1st and as he sat at the dinner table next to his youngest grandchild, it was hard not to become philosophically teary-eyed. 

My boy is four years old. It is very unlikely his grandfather will be around when he gets to that curious stage of adulthood – you know, when you wished you’d asked your grandparents more questions about where they came from and what they’d experienced.

I looked at the wise old face of my Father-in-Law and thought back to all the things he’d been through. He was born in Middlesbrough – a thriving industrial town in those days – but lost his dad when he was nine and was sent away to a boarding school near London during the Second World War because his mum thought it was for the best.

When he left school, he moved back up north and got a job as a bank clerk – rising to become branch manager – where he met his wife – now my children’s grandmother, 10 years younger than him.  Together, they raised two girls, who have gone on to have five children between them.

He’s passionate about cricket and football, and in his heyday was avidly involved in his local community, though the Rotary Club and Round Table. When he retired from the bank, he and Grandma went round the world, visiting New Zealand, China, Kenya and South Africa.

Now he busies himself tending to his garden and giving short-shrift to cold-callers who try to flog dodgy goods and services to the unsuspecting elderly.

His bones creak a little and his hearing is extremely poor, but he is – fortunately – very fit and razor sharp.

But at 85, I can’t help having dark thoughts about how long he’s got left, especially given the fact that my mother died a year ago at the age of 74.

I’d love him to be around to see his grandchildren become teenagers. Even better if they became the kind of young adults who were as interested in the past as I never was until I hit my mid-20s. By which time, sadly, it was too late: I’d lost both my grandfathers by then.

As we sat around the house on my Father-in-Law’s birthday, and his grandkids wished him a Happy New Year as they presented him with a cake and cuddles, I couldn’t help thinking: ‘How many more times will we do this?’


For the stroke of midnight that brings in each New Year is also the stroke that chalks up another year on my Father-in-Law’s time on the planet.

When my wife mentioned the 81 age gap between the oldest and youngest members of the family, my Mother-in-Law piped up with typical chirpy optimism.

‘Don’t think of yourself as being 81 years older than Sam,’ she said. ‘Think of yourself as being 15 years younger than John.’

‘Who’s John?’ I asked.

‘The organist at our church. He’s just turned 100 – and he’s as fit as a fiddle.’

See you next year, then, F-I-L!




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5 Responses to Separated by 81 years…how I wish the oldest could pass on his wisdom to the youngest of our clan

  1. Kaye

    Very poignant. My father is 86 and lives on another island from us. Each time we say goodbye after a visit – we think will this be the last time. Had to come to grips with the idea that there is a finiteness to life.

  2. Lovely post but try to be a bit more optimistic, eh? He’s not gone yet.

  3. A really endearing post and beautiful photographs. On his face in every photo is a wealth of love and joy for his grandchildren. Enjoy every second with him and don’t doubt that there will be many more.

  4. I know how you feel Keith. We lost my father-in-law, who was 71, last August. And I am gutted. I couldn’t have asked for a better Grandad for my boys. But you have to smile and enjoy these moments while you have them, trying not to think of when they’re going to end. Your boy is 4 and will never forget his Grandad – once they get to that age they do remember a lot. Record everything with camera/camcorder/etc and you’ll have brilliant memories to look back on when the awful time comes.
    But don’t spoil your time now by waiting for it.

  5. One of the buggers of middle age is facing up to the death of parents. But in a way we are privileged to be in a position to dread it for it shows how lucky we have been to have had parents and in-laws who mean so much to us. Far worse would to feel indifferent about their fate because the closeness was never there. Your father-in-law is fortunate to have a family who values him so greatly .