Is taking my sons to see their grandad doing more harm than good?

I’ve been away for a week. Part One was visiting my dad with my lads, his grandsons; for Part Two, we teamed up with my wife, my stepdaughter, sister-in-law and brother-in-law and my two nieces to visit my wife’s and her sister’s parents.

And Part Two has left me feeling so guilty about Part One, that I’m wondering if repeating Part One in the future might just do more harm than good.

It wasn’t because Part Two was any better than Part One. It wasn’t. Just different. Very different.

Part Two was more structured: breakfast at a certain time; lunch at a certain time; dinner at a certain time. That’s the way my mother-in-law does things. In a previous life she must have been the world’s best Bed and Breakfast landlady. She puts on a fine spread which more than adds to the ever-increasing fine spread I’m developing around my middle in my middle years.

My dad’s is much more free and easy – help yourself to whatever’s in the kitchen, then off down the pub, kids included. Back for whatever remains in the kitchen; kids to bed; then settle down to watch four different America cop shows all running concurrently. He hates adverts, you see, so he switches to another channel the moment they come on, then he stays there until that show’s ads come on, then moves on to another channel. He’s like a shark: if he doesn’t keep moving through the channels, he fears he’ll die. Something like that.

My dad and my parents-in-law are as different as Dairylea and a runny Brie. But that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about the phone call he made to me a few minutes after I arrived at Part Two. And then the call half an hour later. And the call an hour after that.

Me and my sons – and my stepdaughter, who had joined us by then – had said our goodbyes to my dad on Thursday lunchtime after four great days just hanging out with the old fella. We’d been to said pubs, wandered around the local shopping precinct, and then each of us had laid a single carnation on the plot that is my mother’s final resting place.

‘See you in the summer,’ I’d said.

But will we? After those phone calls, I’m not so sure.

Now, my dad never calls me. Never has. He only ever uses the phone in times of emergency. Even then, he’s called one of my brothers to call me. He doesn’t like to bother me, you see. Thinks I’m busy because I’m the Big I Am in London. Even now that I’m the Big Used To Be But Still In London, he never picks up the phone.

So I was worried to see his number flash up on my iPhone.

‘Everything alright, Dad?’ I said.

‘Yes. Sound, sound. Just checking you got there alright.’

‘There’ is Darlington, where my wife’s folks live and where we’d travelled to from my dad’s in Manchester.

‘Yeah, all sound, Dad. No worries. ‘Twas good to see you,’ I replied.

‘Yeah, you too. Are the lads there?’

‘Yep. All fine, all sound.’

‘Can I talk to them?’

‘Sure.’

I called over my seven and four year-olds and they each said their dutiful thank yous to their grandad for their stay. And that was that.

Until his name flashed up on my phone half an hour later.

‘Quiet here,’ said my dad. ‘You could hear a pin drop.’

‘Count yourself lucky,’ I replied. ‘It’s chaos here. We can always swap if you like?’

‘Ha. No chance. I’ll leave you to it.’

And that was that. Again. Until an hour later.

‘Are you OK, Dad?’ I asked when I answered the phone.

‘Yeah, yeah, sure. Just…you know…’

‘Just what?’ I asked.

‘Just missing the lads, that’s all. It’s like a morgue here.’

And that’s when it hit me, full force, like the heel of a hand to the centre of my chest: he was lonely.

I’ve never thought of my dad as being lonely before, because I guess he’s never been lonely. He had four sons born within five years; until December 2010, he had my mum. But more than that, he’s always had his mates in the pub.

Yet just recently, they seem to be dropping like flies. He’s 74 – the time of life when you get the local paper to look at the obituaries to see who’s died. He seems to know someone who has shuffled off to the other side about once a fortnight this past year.

I noticed it in the pub. There was hardly anybody in there.

‘Beer too expensive?’ I’d remarked.

‘Yeah, that and illness or death.’

Cheery stuff.

And I think a combination of this and the energy and life my sons brought to his home have made him realise he’s not going to be around forever, either. Spending time with his grandkids, who love him like they love me, is making him pine for them when they leave. Their fleeting presence in his life two or three times a year makes their absence all the more poignant when they leave.

So is taking them up to see him doing more harm than good. There is no question that he gets a monumental amount of pleasure from them being there; but is it better to not give him that fleeing pleasure when it results in poignant pain when they leave?

‘Give them a big kiss goodnight from their grandad, won’t you?’ he said, as we signed off our final phone call.

‘Sure thing, Dad,’ I said.

And as I was about to put the phone down, he asked: ‘When are you bringing them up again?’

When? I don’t even know if I should. I thought parting was supposed to be such sweet sorrow. I don’t feel any sweetness at the moment.

19 Comments

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19 Responses to Is taking my sons to see their grandad doing more harm than good?

  1. Susan Eardley

    Oh that’s so heart breaking. Grandparents are so important I think, so for me not going wouldn’t be an option – in fact I’d be thinking of ways that we could get together more often. It’s really difficult with such a big distance though isn’t it. Not very helpful advice though is it :-)

  2. Rachel

    One word : skype
    We use it a lot for Grandparents – and you’d be amazed how much grandparents take to technology when seeing grandchildren is involved.

    And almost anyone can learn to use an iPad – a colleague bought his 92 year old mother her first computer so she could skype her daughter in New York from her hospital bed.

    Also – loneliness is something that can be tackled in other ways too – maybe there’s some groups around? Or the schemes where grandparents whose own family is far away get to grandparent local kids – often it’s the grandmas who teach cooking skills but there might be something?

  3. This makes me so sad as I’m going through something similar with my own Grandad. He’s been ill for some time now, various different illness which mean he’s almost blind, almost deaf and suffers with an horrendous case of neuralgia which can strike at anytime and has left him unconscious for hours at a time.

    The problem is, he lives a two hour drive from us and we don’t have a car right now. He’s been in hospital lately with a severe urine infection and case of anaemia and as much as I’d like to take Sausage to see him (with time seeming to be an ever more pressing concern), I worry that the experience would be traumatic for her.

    In turn, this worry is making me feel guilty, like I’m selfishly depriving my Grandad of seeing his great Granddaughter, but my sense of parental responsibility is overwhelming. There doesn’t seem to be any right answer where everyone wins.

    I really feel for you.

  4. Karen kbmanc

    Does your Dad see a lot of your brothers (and their children if they have any)?

    Its so hard when you can’t just pop round for a brew. Its lovely that, despite the distance, he has such a strong bond with your boys. They no doubt keep him young.

    Skype (commented above) is a really good idea or they could write regularly and send photos and some school ‘artwork’. Anything at all that keeps up regular contact along with maybe an extra surprise visit.

  5. Oh that must be so hard. Loneliness is such a terrible thing, and a terrible thing to watch. You poor thing :( But I would have to say keep bringing them to visit – I’m sure if you gave your Dad the choice that’s what he would want – tough as it is. x

  6. Jude.x

    You just made me cry Keith. No Grandparents here….. My parents died when I was still little, and both the in-laws are gone now. I moved my little family 200 miles back to Derbyshire because I couldn’t bear those (sibling) partings anymore – but I had that option. When my daughter returns to London after a visit I keep calling her – at least until she has walked through her front door! :-) Hubby is an HGV1 driver; he’s been working nights, and he calls me when I get in from work, and I’ll call him during the evening and then again before I go to bed. Just because! :-D
    Don’t stop visiting. Don’t feel guilty. How often does he travel down to visit you? Maybe you could suggest he comes to see you, to extend the times he sees the boys?
    I love the idea of Skype – I’m going to have to sort that out for myself to talk to my son soon too! Also love the idea of them writing to Grandad.
    Is moving an option for him? One of those “retirement flats” would provide company but with his own space too? I really do hope you can sort something out so that you all feel better about it. ((hugs))
    Jude.x

  7. Hi,
    Long time reader/lurker here. I’m a young ‘un without any children, but I wanted to share with you the happy memories I have if visiting my Great Granny. Her house was crammed full of stuff and smelt funny because she was a hoarder, but I loved that when I visited I got orange juice in a special Alex sized cup, and that she was so pleased to hear about the dancing and singing I did at school, and that she’d tell me stories about when she was a singer.

    Yes it was annoying we had to shout loudly so she heard us, but it was always special. I’m so glad my parents took us as often as they could, and as I grow older I appreciate the memories and stories I have that help inform my personality and why I am the person I am.

    I would encourage you to keep visiting when you can, and like others here, look at other ways of interacting. Maybe your lads could write a letter once a month or so? Everyone likes real post, it would help them practice their literacy skills, and maybe they could ask their grandad about his childhood. A card or letter on his mantelpiece would remind him he’s not alone, and give him something to look forward to.

    • keithkendrick

      What heartfelt suggestions from everyone who has commented on this post. Thank you to everyone. I think the idea of writing a monthly letter/card is inspired. Going to get on that case straight away. I wish my dad would come and visit us but he is a man of his times, can’t drive and has an irrational fear of trains (all those people, confined spaces etc) but we will make the effort to get up to see him more often. Many thanks.

      • Jude.x

        How about a coach? My son has High Functioning Autism and can’t cope with trains – even if I were to go with him – but gets on a coach without any problem? Failing that – next time I’m going to London in the car, I’ll detour and bring him with me!!!! :-D xx

  8. Sounds as though it would break his heart if you stopped visiting. I’m at my mother’s right now and, as usual, she started dreading our departure the moment we arrived. But she still derives joy from our presence, however empty the house seems afterwards. Much much more pitiful than your father are the elderly who have – or see- no family and who fear they’ll pass unmourned. With love comes pain. Most of us choose to love knowing that. And few of us would forsake it to spare ourselves the hurt. Keep visiting. The joy of your brief company will, I’m sure, outweigh the grief of your absence.

  9. Gosh, I would never suggest that you don’t go and see him at all. It would seem a shame to rob him of a proper relationship with his grandsons and your boys of a relationship with their grandad.

    My ma is a little bit like this after we leave but she does love seeing the kids. I don’t go down there enough (my kids keep getting weekend activities), but they appreciate seeing her, talking to her on the phone and all the rest. This may be because she sends them little gifts regularly but hey ho.

    She will just about do trains but coach is a good option although slow. It’s also much much cheaper than train travel. Try looking at megabus. They do some fab deals.

  10. Don’t stop going, whatever you do. He needs to cling onto those memories and they need to know him. It may be bloody hard for you but don’t deprive them (I know that’s a hard word). Everytime my mum drives me mad as she lets herself into the house, I think about my missing memories of my grandparents. I want The Boy to know my parents and have memories of them, to remember what a ‘cuddle and a kiss and a walking stick’ (their little saying) feels like. I want her to enjoy him. And so I bite my tongue and keep going.

    Keep going Keith, keep taking them.

  11. Sue

    Whatever you do DO NOT stop going.
    My Dad died last week, my sons, both strapping men were there at his funeral, heartbroken but so proud that they knew their Grandad, they had so many memories of him, happy tales from when they were 3 and 9 and he had been out with them walking the dog, playing over the years with him, poignant visits and family rows between them and us, and them and him….but the thing was they HAD memories and have them for the rest of their lives.

    My Dad got such pleasure from seeing his Grandsons grow up, he didn’t always agree with what they did but he was proud of them for who they were and they, equally were proud of him.

    Relationships are a two way thing and who are we to decide to push them closer or stop them completely.

    Let things develop naturally, let your boys write to their Grandad, send him school pictures or photocopies of reports from school, let him into their lives in many little ways, give him something to show to his mates down at the pub, while he still has some. Keep things normal, just maybe up it a notch with phone calls.

    Soon you may not have the luxury of that choice.

    Sue xx

  12. Do keep going to see him. Don’t deprive him of the joy of seeing you just because he suffers the pain of your leaving.

    I go back to the UK every six months to see my family. It’s not enough but it’s the only chance we get. Last Christmas I took the boys to see my dad who now suffers from severe Alzheimer’s. He didn’t know who they were but he was happy to see them, and it helped them understand him too.

  13. wow you totally know how to write a tear jerker. Yes go and visit more. You never know when that “last” visit will be. The kids will eventually get to a point where they are too busy or too old to want to make these trips. I struggle with these visits but I’m 7hours away from my parents, and brother and sisters. I hate that I have to put a price on time with my families.

  14. Awwww, Keith. This post moved me to tears. I can’t imagine how you’re feeling, but it’s not to far to make the trips a little more frequently if that’s possible for you. Big hugs to you all while I go grab my box of tissues.

  15. Ditzy Mummy

    What a heartbreaking post, you made me cry on the tube this morning and then tell some random people that they’d missed their stop (which they hadn’t) but I’d been so absorbed in your post that I hadn’t noticed the tube had been in a tube jam for ages. Hope you decide to take your boys to their Grandad soon, its touching that he loves their visits.

  16. Tim

    I stumbled across your site by accident but so glad I did. I recently moved back to Sheffield after 10 years away so my 18 month daughter could be near my parents. The pain of seeing them part, after only a couple of days together in that first year, and thinking it me be the last time was too much! Took my wifes advice and we upped everything and moved.

    Lifes never been better.

  17. Vicky

    You would not seriously stop going would you?? He has lost so much recently, in the last few years he has lost his life partner and some of his closest friends. And you want to give him more loss to cope with??? My Grandma is on her own, and yes she is lonely – So I make an effort to see her more, after all, she has given so much in her life it really is the very least I can do. Your dad has something to look forward to…. your next visit….. taking that away could be….. well lets just say a big mistake.

    I totally hear what you are saying, and I know you don’t mean to be mean…. but you have a member of your family who needs you, needs your company, needs to be reminded he is loved and still a valuable member of your family – you could make him a DVD of the kids so he can see and hear them whenever he wants, but better still get ya butt up there and see him as often as you can. Not everyone still has their parents, you have to make the most of every minute with him. They don’t live forever and regrets are not a nice thing to live with.

    :) go on….. of you go!!

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