My 16-month-old son attends a weekly music class on Saturdays. Most kids come to class with their parents; however, there are two kids who arrive each week with their grandpa. Their smiles as they walk into the room, dragging their grandpa’s hand behind them, light up their entire faces. They excitedly tell everyone that they are with their ‘Papa,’ almost like they are at show and tell. Everyone smiles because it’s impossible not to. But I don’t. I feel a large lump forming in my throat as I realize my son’s grandpa will never attend music class with him.
My father passed away a few years before my son was born. Grieving the loss of a father is hard, but grieving the loss of a relationship my son will never have with him is even harder. The only way my son will know my father is through me and the way I parent. My father’s best qualities are those that I don’t possess. He was patient, consistently calm, even-keeled, and had a way to make you feel like you were the only one in the room. I fear that my son won’t learn these great qualities through me and, in turn, won’t truly know his grandpa. I am constantly fearful that I will fail at this.
In addition to my father being gone, my in-laws live three thousand miles away. My husband is British, and we met nine years ago while he was working in the States. Five years ago, we decided to start our lives together here in Michigan instead of England. Our naive selves focused on creating the ‘American Dream’ without thought on how my husband would navigate starting a family thousands of miles from his.
I am fearful that my son will somehow lack guidance, positive role models outside of the home, knowledge on how to get a fish off a hook or change the oil on his first car (not my husband’s strong suits), or truly know the meaning of a delicious homecooked meal (not my strong suit). Will his relationship suffer with my in-laws? Are they going to eventually stop visiting? Will we? Will he ever feel like he knows his grandfather although they never met? Is this ever going to get easier?
Although my husband and I have found ourselves with absent parents due to different circumstances, we both are struggling. For example, my father’s death wasn’t a choice, but I still feel guilty that my son will be missing out on moments and memories of his grandfather. My husband deals with a tremendous amount of guilt that he chose to move thousands of miles away from his parents, especially now that they have a grandson. When I see them say tearful goodbyes at the airport or see my husband FaceTiming them during our son’s first birthday cake smash, how can I, being the main reason we’re here, not feel guilty for tearing a family apart?
Despite all of these worries and fears, we are fortunate to have parents who are incredibly supportive of us. I realize that there are people who aren’t so lucky and struggle with this void due to choice, not by circumstance. Becoming parents ourselves is the most life-changing thing we have ever done, and we realize we need ours more than ever. It’s easy to take things for granted, and I know I complain about things that others would love to have. So although I do get upset, fearful, guilty, and envious, I do my best to remember perspective.
In actuality, my son is not completely void of all close-knit grandparent relationships. Grandma ‘Sassy,’ my mom, is, and always has been, my biggest support and cheerleader. She is a large part of our lives and lends us a helping hand whenever we ask for it. As a new mother, navigating this role would be impossible without her near. She loves my son in an unconditional sense that only parents and grandparents understand. He also has aunts, uncles, and cousins close by who he sees often.
Although my in-laws and other extended family members aren’t close in distance, they already have such a connection. Our son has seen them on three occasions, but he immediately recognizes them with a big grin on his face. As he gets older, he will continue to learn invaluable lessons from their absence. He will cherish the memories and soak in each mundane moment with his ‘Nan’ and ‘Grandad.’ He will grow to learn that missing people is healthy, and it’s what we do with the memories that matter.
I hope that as he grows, he gains insight into another culture different than his. He will ‘show and tell’ his stories about his grandparents who have funny accents and how he has more stamps on his passport than most kids his age.
Even though my son doesn’t have first-hand memories of my father, he catches glimpses of him through me. Becoming a parent has allowed me to live my father’s memory in ways that I couldn’t have before. I have learned that if I want my son to truly know my dad, I must teach him by example. I have become a much more patient and present mother as I loved those qualities of my father. Eventually, my son will get older, and discussions about his grandfather will open the doors into conversations about death and our faith.
My husband’s best friend read a quote at our wedding by Meghan Daum that says, “Distance is not for the fearful, it’s for the bold. It’s for those who know a good thing when they see it, even if they don’t see it nearly enough.” At the time, the quote was meant for us, as we had navigated a long-distance relationship for several years. However, I can’t help but think the quote had a bigger purpose in our life. It’s the perfect reminder that although our son’s grandparents won’t be at music class, he will grow to be resilient and appreciate the moments he has.