Grandfathers and their 'wow' factor
Older people are healthier, living longer and can communicate more easily with family members. At the same time today’s parents are more occupied with work and career than previous generations.
It’s a “win-win position” says Knudsen of the University of Stavanger, whose research, subtitled “Why older men can be relatively good grandfathers”, was published in the journal Acta Sociologica. “Healthier and fitter grandparents who want to be with their grandchildren can be a big help to careerist parents in a hectic daily life.”
He also identified how a grandfather who still has his wife finds it easier to share in the life of his grandchildren. However, while women take the lead in grandparenting, the difference in gender roles diminishes as couples get older and “past 70, the grandfather usually takes the lead”, Knudsen notes.
Taking care of grandchildren is a blessing for many retired men, says Dermot Kirwan, spokesman for Friends of the Elderly.
A man who has been working all his life and whose social networks are tied up with his workmates often loses his identity when he retires. But if he is lucky enough to have grandchildren living nearby, he can find a whole new role.
“Often they are doing the things they should have done as fathers,” he comments. “Many of them worked the traditional five or five-and-a-half day week. They are rediscovering the parental skills they may never have had the first time round.”
Equally, in these difficult economic times young parents are falling back on the resource of grandparents, Kirwan observes. “They have the time and usually they are unburdened by debt. Grandparents are back in vogue big time.”
He also points out that generally grandfathers in their 60s today are not into booze and cigarettes the way men 10 years their senior would have been and are therefore more able and willing to be involved with their grandchildren. And he sees lots of “sprightly grand-
fathers” stepping into the job of male role model for children in one-parent families.
Murray admits that 10 years ago he had a very bleak outlook for life after retirement. He imagined he would have no work to do, very little money and that his health would be gone.
“It has actually turned out to be the opposite. Without being misty-eyed about it, it is a wonderful life I have.”
To him balance is key – because he is busy with his own activities, he appreciates better the time spent with both the two younger grandchildren, as well as the other two who live in Santry and who they see about once a fortnight now that they are teenagers.
He sums up the grandparent role as that of providing lots of security in the background. “When they come in here, they always treat it as they would their own house and they would sleep over now and then. I think that creates a kind of safety net.
“I can be philosophical with them,” he adds, “more than I could be with my own kids.”
'I admire them for their knowledge and how young they all mature at'
When it comes to being a grandfather, Thomas O’Flaherty’s advice is not to overdo it.
“Don’t try to take the place of the mother or the father because you can be given the cold shoulder,” he warns.
Also, “if you can manage it at all, be as generous as you can with your grandchildren because it’s about the only thing they will remember you for,” he laughs.
“It also gives you a feel-good factor if you can make things easier for grandchildren.
“The more you give, the better you feel. We live in a very selfish world nowadays.”
O’Flaherty (75), a father of three, grandfather of eight and due to become a great-grandfather in April, has limited time with his grandchildren, aged from seven to 29, because they are busy and so is he – and the three youngest live in London, while the eldest is in the US.
“I wouldn’t be hanging out with them,” he says. “How would I put it to you? Children get very boring at times as I am sure granddads can.
“We would not always be on the same wavelength.
“They have their iPads and their laptops – that is the way they communicate. Talking to granddad is like talking a different language.”
For his part, he leaves all computer-related matters to his wife, Barbara.
A retired tailor, O’Flaherty has lived in Clondalkin for 46 years and is involved with the Clondalkin Active Retirement Association and the Toastmasters. He is also a very keen gardener.