Grandfathers and their 'wow' factor
More and more Irish grandfathers are refining their parenting skills and catching up on family time with their grandchildrenSometimes when Paul Murray (73) looks at his four grandchildren he is “startled” to remember they are the results of an infatuation he had for a young woman many years ago.
“This is what happens – it is the cream on the coffee,” he says of the next generation being born to some of the five children he and his wife, Lily, raised in Ballyfermot in west Dublin.
Having grown up in Drimnagh and started work at the age of 14, as a shoe shop delivery boy, he had a rule as a teenager that he would not go out with any girls at work or who lived locally. “I would only date girls who lived far away – they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them.”
Then Murray got friendly with a young man whose family had recently moved into the area; he had a sister . . . “She flashed her dark eyes and all my rules and regulations went.”
More than 50 years later they are proud grandparents – who still go dancing every Sunday night in the local GAA hall. Since his retirement from the paper and print industry he has had more time for writing – he had a collection of poems, entitled Paper Trail, published in 2010 – and he presents two programmes a week on West Dublin Access Radio, a community station.
“It is a nice, busy lifestyle and having the grandchildren – they are the ‘wow’ factor in my life. I was kind of a strict dad. I have mellowed.”
Like many a hard-working man of his generation, Murray feels he missed out on time with his own children. He regularly did overtime, in the Clondalkin and then Killeen paper mills, before 26 years at Ault Wiborg Newspaper Ink factory in Bluebell.
“Even though it seemed to work out relatively well with my kids, I did miss them a lot of times, busy trying to earn lots of pounds. The kids in fairness have never said anything like that, they understood.”
Now he collects his son Ciarán’s two children, Alannah (11) and Darragh (six), twice a week from their gaelscoil in Inchicore and brings them to his and Lily’s house for the afternoon.
Many Irish grandfathers today see a significant difference in the way their sons parent compared with their role as fathers in the 1960s and 1970s.
For a start, most men attend the births of their children while their fathers would have been “run” from the door of the maternity hospital, as one grandfather puts it. For many, that slightly removed parental role continued as they concentrated on what they saw as their primary role of provider while the wife ran the home.
Murray, who would have been less inclined to show his emotions as a father than now as a grandfather, agrees that Ciarán is parenting in a different way, primarily because both he and his wife, Mary, go out to work. He recalls how he and Ciarán had many an argument in his youth, over religion and politics in particular.
“At the same time I see how soft he is with the kids – it is absolutely wonderful. Me and him had some hard stuff to do.”
He also acknowledges how Ciarán can cook. “I could never cook – I can make chicken and chips.”
More hands on
Fathers and expectant fathers today are much more hands on, says David Caren, founder of Dad.ieand author of The Irish Dad’s Survival Guide to Pregnancy Beyond.
“It was unheard of in my own father’s day to attend antenatal appointments, never mind the birth itself.”
Few working men then would feed the baby or change a nappy, he points out. And there were no “celebrity dads” in the media making hands-on fatherhood “cool”.
“In my dad’s day it was John Wayne and George Best. Today it’s all about David Beckham and Brad Pitt – though in my dad’s defence of his role models, I couldn’t really see John Wayne pushing a buggy.”
But now when Caren’s dad comes to visit, he throws himself into entertaining the three grandchildren, reading books, making up stories and acting the clown.
“If he is catching up for lost time, I don’t know or care to know, what I do know is that my kids enjoy his company very much and are exhausted and saddened after he leaves.”
Grandfathers appear to be more involved with their grandchildren than before, according to Norwegian sociologist Knud Knudsen who conducted a survey of more than 5,000 grandparents in 11 European countries last year. He attributes this to various social and demographic changes.