#990 All grandfathers are created equal
Grandfathered: Dispatches from the Trenches of Modern Grandparenthood
by Ian Haysom
Victoria: Heritage House Publishing, 2020
$22.95 / 9781772033335
Reviewed by Ron Verzuh
All grandfathers are created equal: They all share the pleasure of a tiny hand slipping into their own.
I skipped the grandfather stage of life and went straight to great grandfathering, but that didn’t mean I missed the charms of grandparenting so humorously described in Ian Haysom’s memoir, Grandfathered. Most of all, I have not missed those moments with my great granddaughter Calliope in which, like Haysom, I become the beneficiary of a three-year-old’s greater wisdom.
The other day, for example, Calliope was reaching for a bowl of candies. “Do you need some help getting a cough candy?” I offered innocently. “Grandpa,” came the scolding response behind a wide-eyed stare of astonishment at my ignorance. “They’re not called cough candies,” she explained. “They’re called cough drops.” Thus, she marked out some intellectual turf while putting me in my place.
I dined out on the story for weeks while slowly recognizing that this little human being was developing a personality. She is the cutest little girl in the world (Sorry, Ian, mine’s cuter!) and she has a sense of humour, a temper (when she says “no” she means it, at least for a minute or so), and she has an impish side (a water hose in her hands usually means I get soaked).
Haysom, who grew up in the United Kingdom, is a former editor of the Vancouver Sun and Province as well as news director of BCTV. Along the way he fathered four children and grandfathered two girls and a boy. Semi-retired, his book is a record of his adventures with Mayana, Emma, and Linden.
We are along for the ride at sports events, Christmas and birthday parties, trips to the beach, and visits to the thrift store. The kids provide much amusement often at Grandpa’s expense and Haysom makes us chuckle with his self-deprecating humour. We are also offered comparisons with his memory of childhood in Britain, references to today’s social problems, and some Haysom philosophy on everything from climate change to Trump.
The education of Grandpa includes learning to handle, or not handle, unstoppable baby screams. These turn into unstoppable squealing as the kids grow into toddlers. We share Haysom’s witnessing of home births, learn about midwifery, and feel his twinge when an errant safety pin hits his finger instead of the cloth diaper. We also feel our hearts melt when he describes “my granddaughter’s tiny hand snaking into mine.”
This book is not Haysom’s first attempt to reflect on parenting. As a journalist with a growing family, he penned the occasional column. In reviving one of those columns, he notes that “kids have more respect and kindness for their grandparents than for their parents. Either that, or they just feel really sorry for you.”
Few grandfathers will fail to relate to one of Haysom’s many awkward moments. There he was at the fall fair, in a long line waiting to ride the big slide, when a tiny voice said “Grandpa, I need to go to the washroom.” In another chapter, he tells us what happens when the grandchild refuses to eat. “They’re testing us,” Haysom explains. “Seeing how long they can push our buttons.” One solution: “Bribery.” Another: “Being sad, which is, in and of itself, really sad.”
We share the delights of a walk to the park with a toddler. The walk would normally take Haysom five minutes. With Mayana it took a full hour. Along the way, they counted 50 butterflies, with Mayana deciding she would rather be one of those than a scary bee.
Once at the park, Mayana makes a beeline for the swings and Haysom reveals that he is a youthful granddad when he describes accomplishing the “underduck.” That is when you push the swing high enough to run under it. Warning to great granddads: Do not try this!
Much more awaits the reader: TV time, Cabbage Patch dolls, “Monsters in My Room,” painting, bedtime reading, and music. Haysom, once a music critic, grew up listening to all the 60s bands I listened to, and we can agree not to inflict Barry Manilow on our grandchildren. Better to infuse them with Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, and Leonard Cohen, now dead, but “who out-hips just about everyone on stage today.”
Haysom knows his audience. He is a white, middle class male who has had a successful career and played a prominent and influential role in Canadian society. Other WASPS will swarm to buy his book. They, as I did, will see much of themselves in its pages. If it isn’t already there, I predict it will be among the year’s bestsellers.
For other grandfathers, this may not resonate in quite the same way. While Haysom hits the politically correct note on many social, cultural and environmental issues of the day, his grandfatherly experiences are necessarily different from those of, say, an immigrant, person of colour, or someone living in poverty.
I do not raise this to discredit Haysom. He’s done a fine job of sharing his experiences and he can’t possibly put his feet in those other shoes. To his credit, he recognizes that some in his generation, and mine, can tend to “gloss over the rampant racism, homophobia, discrimination, sexism, abuse, and cruelty that were also part of the fabric of the age.”
Haysom’s idea for this book could lead him to write a second volume. I hope he does. There are many more grandfather, and great grandfather, experiences to retell. It could even be the makings of a TV show, although I see Fox has already tried that and dumped it after one season.
Perhaps it is best just to savour this one and be thankful for all the joy it brings to even great grandfathers who can no longer do “underducks,” but still feel the love when a tiny hand slips into theirs. Nothing like it, as Haysom attests.
Ron Verzuh is a writer, historian and filmmaker with five granddaughters and two great granddaughters. Editor’s note: Ron Verzuh’s recent contributions to The Ormsby Review include books by John O’Brian, Scott Stephen, Christine Hayvice, Keith Powell, Tony McAleer, Norm Boucher, and Ron Shearer.
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