Becoming a grandparent seems to be the GRAND PRIZE of parenthood. The way adults of a certain age react to their own grown children having children; you would think so, at least. My parents were no exception. They tried their hardest not to pressure my sister or me into producing babies for them to love and adore, but when we started, the joy they expressed was better than for any straight-A report card I ever brought home. My parents have always been very supportive of every accomplishment, but the little boy we call Wilder (and his amazing cousins, Hunter and Astoria) are without question their favorite accomplishments my sister and I have ever produced.
This is may or may not be surprising depending on how you know my dad, Dave Sharp. He is an accomplished advertising guru and businessman who came of age in the same ad environment as “Mad Men.” He has an impressive portfolio. He has worked with world-renowned clients, is well respected in his field, but he is also a genuinely great guy who has staked his reputation on being a mentor for the next generation of marketing professionals. I admire him. And he has helped me develop a career I love and has enabled me to provide for my own son and myself.
He takes after my own Grandfather, after all. Homer Sharp was also a talented businessman, top of his field as the VP of design at Marshall Fields. Christmas in our household is particularly meaningful because my grandfather sourced some of the most incredible Christmas ornaments for the three-story Christmas tree and holiday window displays at the Marshall Fields flagship in downtown Chicago. He also takes after my Grandpa- a man I still, nearly twenty years after his death refer to, as a “soul mate” and one of the most influential people in my life, for the fact that he is an incredible grandparent.
I never doubted my own father would be a great Grandpa. But what did surprise me was how completely hands-on he wanted to be when it came to raising my own son. He was busy with running an advertising agency when my sister and I were both little, so while he was an attentive father, he missed a lot of the day-to-day activities of raising babies and young children. He wanted to be right there, and be a part of my kid’s life. And are we lucky for it!
When I was six or seven months pregnant, my husband and I were trying to decide about our childcare options. You may have heard that daycare now costs more than in-state college tuition, and we were considering our options. My dad kindly offered my mother as a childcare provider, part-time and free of charge. We agreed to this incredible deal. What we didn’t realize at the time was that he was really offering himself. Once Wilder was born, he was there, changing diapers, playing and singing, and taking over child-care duties on his own while we both worked. He may or may not have insisted that he watch Wilder on his own much of the time (which he probably did).
From the start, Wilder and my dad had this unique and special bond. My dad eventually took his own child-care hours and freely offered additional babysitting services. If we needed an extra hand, he was there.
While my parents were unusually hands-on for the first year of my kiddos life, no one would have imagined how much of an essential role they would play. When my son was 17 months, we underwent a tragic shift in our home life, and my parents became a more central roll in Wilder and my day-to-day life. My dad is now Wilder’s #1 male figure, and it is a role he cherishes and takes so seriously.
Wilder lovingly calls my dad his “Bapa” and asks for him every day. Together they cook, play cards, read books, sing songs, learn animal sounds and do weird boy stuff, like make fart sounds and talk about poop. I could never teach him these things onmy own.
If you follow my dad on Facebook, you will know that he loves to cook and has an impressive repertoire of recipes. Well, he has shaped my kiddos pallet. There are no chicken nuggets for my (almost) two-year-old. He slurps onions, mows on pickles, and prefers beat salad to mac and cheese. My dad has already taught Wilder to make blueberry pancakes, appreciate cured meats on Neapolitan pizza and indulge in the occasional ice cream bar.
Watching my little “wild man” learn and grow with his grandparent’s love is one of the most significant surprises of parenthood. For me at least, becoming a parent my love and appreciation for everything my parents have done for me, the support and sacrifices they made for me over the years came to the forefront. Funny how that happens. Watching them with Wilder, especially, makes me realize what an incredible gift they are to his life. He radiates with their love. The patience they have for him, the delight every milestone brings to them, and the creative play and conversations they enjoy together, amplify his happiness and sense of self.
After nearly two years of watching “Bapa” with my baby Wilder, I completely understand why becoming a grandparent is the GRAND PRIZE of parenting, but I also realize, that my son is the one who is really winning.