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Hand Me Down

by on March 26, 2019

Hand Me Down

by Marco M. Pardi

The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

William James. The Principles of Psychology. 1890.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

By now many readers know I have a daughter and three grandchildren. Actually, the term grandchildren seems misleading. The oldest is just finishing an advanced degree before entering medical school, the next is now a college Sophomore, and the youngest will enter university in the Fall. When I look at them I don’t see children.

Yet, I wonder what they see when they look at me. I try to think back to when I was their age and how I perceived someone my age. Both my grandfathers died before I was eight years old, so grandfather is not a good marker for me. I also grew up in circumstances which meant that I never learned how to be around small children; I relate to adults.

But I decided many decades ago that biological lineage is not the primary determinant of how I judge a person. I was raised that way and found it utterly alienating. I judge (and I use the word in a benign sense) on factors such as wisdom, empathy, understanding, and other elements of what we call character. The problem is that, living roughly 1,000 miles away from them, I get very little opportunity to display what character elements I may have. Two of the most uncomfortable questions I find myself pondering are: Do they know me, beyond the categorical title of grandfather; and, Do I know each of them, beyond the categorical title of grandchild. What if I were asked to write an essay about each of them, or they about me?

Of course I also recognize the huge gulf which rapidly evolving technology has opened between us. I can synchronize and tune multiple Weber carburetors while they zip along on electronic devices I do not know how to even turn on. I’m sure they would ask, What’s a carburetor? But that’s just an anachronistic tidbit, not a character trait. It’s also not a necessary skill for navigating our rapidly changing world.

Traditional cultures place high value on their elders, even encoding them in their legal systems. The loya jurga, encoded in the Pashtunwali, or Pashtun code of laws in Afghanistan is an example of elders gathering to render a judgment. Until the rapid post WWII Westernization of Japan elders were held in the highest esteem. Recent decades increasingly find them parked in nursing homes and “senior homes” not much different from our own.

So what exactly is the role a grandparent plays in the current Western family? Not so long ago when calamitous events such as severe weather or prolonged drought threatened we looked to our elders and asked, Did this happen in your lifetime? How did you handle it? Now we tune to the Weather Channel. Yet, as we increasingly recognize the intersection of climate change and economics/politics, where do we look? The nation wide infiltration of school boards by one particular political party is increasingly bringing severely biased textbooks into classrooms and gag orders onto teachers. Even the use of the term Climate Change is banned in some school districts.

If the parents are too consumed with their own (justified) needs to pursue their careers and support their families to be able to review their children’s text books and challenge school boards at meetings should the grandparents, with more time on their hands and much deeper experience step in? If a grandparent understands the science behind climate change, but the parents have neither the background nor the time to study it or perhaps fear for their careers, should the grandparent step in and discuss it with the grandchildren? How about a grandparent who has intimate and scholarly knowledge of Fascism, and how the United States is galloping headlong into a system which will disempower and subjugate its own people and destroy the environment while making a few very rich people very much richer? Should the grandparent speak up?

If it is true that those children who survive to the middle to end of this century will look back on their predecessors and ask, WHY?, shouldn’t we who know better speak and act now?

Aaah, I can imagine the eyes rolling and the, There he goes again, from the readers outside the United States. Well, for those who might think otherwise, the U.S. is a world problem not a colloquial problem. Although Fascism is not yet the formally admitted name for the American system, the operating principles are well in place. There are three differences between Mussolini’s system and the U.S.: Mussolini is on record as having called Hitler and his Nazis “barbarians” for their treatment of the Jews and other minorities. Trump commented on the Charlottesville, Virginia White Supremacy march by saying, “There are good people on both sides.” And, Mussolini took active steps to address environmental problems, such as draining the Pontine swamps and thus greatly reducing if not eliminating malaria in central and southern Italy. The regime which has Trump as its spokesman is dedicated to rolling back or eliminating every environmental regulation it can in its ruthless attempt to enrich itself. Finally, Mussolini brought the Vatican to heel. The secular Vatican empire, cloaked in religion, was rendered largely impotent in its contest with him. The U.S. regime, cloaking itself in “pro life”, is attempting to render abortion illegal and contraception nearly impossible to obtain while at the same time slashing or eliminating all forms of help for women and children. The end result will be people too desperate to protest working conditions and only too glad to enlist in imperialist military services. The regime is not pro life; it is pro birth….as in cheap labor and cannon fodder. The Fundamentalists are just too myopic to see they are being used.

And I would say the same about those outside the U.S. who deny that American economic, environmental, and political policies extend beyond its borders.

In the past few days the Mueller report has been “summarized” by Trump’s Attorney General and we are told “no evidence has been found that collusion (with the Russians) took place” and Mueller deferred action of Obstruction of Justice to the DOJ. Of course, the regime touts this as total and complete exoneration, even though the statement from Mueller explicitly says it does not exonerate the President. In my view, any first year law student would recognize that “no evidence has been found” does not mean there is no evidence; it means no evidence has been found. Any student who had my Critical Thinking course would also have immediately seen the fallacy in the regime’s position.

If this kind of false narrative is allowed to soak into the seedlings who are our youth what should we expect our garden to grow?

Okay, so I’ve ranted again. Should I not? Should I find a jovial shuffleboard court and pass my time until my time passes? I’m sure some would love nothing more. But some readers of my columns are grandparents. What’s your position? For that matter, one doesn’t have to be a grandparent to have an opinion on this. Even if I did not have my own grandchildren, why would I not speak up for those children out there who, in my view, are becoming victims and pawns in a deadly machine? Why should I not Hand Me Down?

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14 Comments
  1. Ray Rivers permalink

    HI Marco – I consider my duty as grandparent to challenge our youth – and clearly I have to choose the points I can win by and those I can’t. I let them use a plastic straw or even a water bottle but as they drink from that hopefully they also drink up some of the ideas I raise with them about how the world works, and what is going on that they need to know.

    I think one has to be careful not to just seed doom and gloom, regardless that there is so much of it ahead of us. That will only turn their young minds off, or scare them, or do some other kind of emotional damage – and brand me. So I try to focus on where we should be going. Not that we’re all going to die from climate change, for example, but that it is happening and these are ways we can reduce its impacts on the planet and our lives. I believe as elders we need to instill values, or at least complement the ones their parents, teachers and even their peers may have seeded.

    Great topic – I only remember one of my grandfathers and I’ll always remember him for his selfishness and meanness to my mother and to myself – I can’t recall the good things, which even he must have done. I hope I’ll be remembered more fondly.

    Ray Z. Rivers 445 Mountsberg Rd., Campbellville ON L0P 1B0 Home and Mobile – 905-659-2069 rayzrivers@gmail.com

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  2. Thank you, Ray. I’m so glad to see you got through this time. I see you take William James” quote to heart. And, you offer us wise guidance. You are right. We cannot long criticize without being challenged to offer solutions. And I think your emphasis on values prepares youth broadly, not just for specific problems. I immediately thought of Ethics, and why we don’t have such classes in our school curricula. Of course, my own perspective on answering that would be to question who was teaching the classes, and on whose behalf.

    Your comment about your grandfather saddens me. But you are proof that what comes down does not necessarily gain the strength to rise again.

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  3. Michael E. Stamm permalink

    Thought-provoking, as always. I never knew my paternal grandfather, who killed himself (long story) before I was born; my maternal grandfather was a decent man but a very taciturn one who spoke very little about anything, though he enjoyed his six grandchildren (most of the time). My parents would have made good grandparents but never got the chance; neither my brothers nor I have had kids. My older cousin has two kids, neither of whom I’ve even seen, and at least one of them has a child or two; my youngest cousin has only grown stepchildren. My younger cousin, 15 months my junior, has five or six grandkids, and is constantly bemused and challenged by them, but knows his role is, or can be, a very important one, so he treads lightly. It seems to be a worthwhile effort, even for those who live at a considerable distance.

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    • Thank you, Mike. Your description of your family is an interesting read and makes one wonder (in a good way) at the dynamics. My brother, almost four years my senior, adopted two children and each of them had children. But, by his own admission his military career distanced him from just about everyone. Yet, he was always conscious of “carrying on the family name”. Our step-sister died childless.

      The treading lightly comment rings with me in that I try to be very conscious of my daughter’s views and her feelings of what her children should hear from me. At times I worry that I may be too reticent and thereby deprive them of knowing their only living grandfather.

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  4. Not having having your values represented in public education or debate is scary – but is this really different from when you were younger? You have stated that you were a child in Italy when Mussolini was in power and lived during a time of racial segregation in the U.S. – yet you seemed to develop your own ideas and opinions. Were you not also fed propaganda during your youth?

    I appreciate the opinion and experience of those who have seen much more than I have, but it is also important to take contemporary scenarios into account – technology is different today and in some cases we are in uncharted waters (it’s exciting; an interesting time to be alive). I hope that the internet will help overcome any shortcomings via censorship. I also think it is the job of youth to question their teachers, parents, authority figures – when I was younger my mother used to call this “being a little shit” 😉

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    • Thank you, E. My childhood was exceedingly fortunate in that I never bonded with anyone around me and therefore was far less prone to absorbing their ideas and opinions. I developed an adaptation of learning what people thought for the sake of dealing with them, not for the sake of finding some way I should think. Obviously, that was an early start on a lifetime career.

      Welcome, “little shit”. We advance through your efforts. There’s nothing to be gained by just listening to ourselves.

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  5. My brilliant twelve year old granddaughter is very into science in all its forms; she is also studying civic this year in her advanced middle school. Each weekday, we make the ten minute drive to deposit her in that institute of learning. The conversation along the way rarely fails to fascinate me. Sometimes she teaches me about her world, and sometimes I teach her about mine.

    I think as grandparents (perhaps even more than when we were parents), it is our obligation to share our knowledge and experiences with the generation which will too soon be taxed with running the world in which we reside. We must advocate for those we care about.

    The current regime is trying to “whitewash” our culture, to take away our history, and to eliminate the very differences which make us strong. We can’t let that happen. To forget the past is to chance repeating it, but isn’t that exactly what they want us to do? I don’t want my past to become my grandchildren’s future.

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    • Thank you, Rose. That is a powerful closing statement: “I don’t want my past to become my grandchildren’s future”. How very true. I regret not having a closer relationship with my daughter – often being thousands of miles away – during her childhood and lately with my grandchildren.

      At least we “facetime” as often as possible, though I was resistant to getting one of those phones.

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  6. My granddaughter is 19 months old and so am at the beginning of my grandparent journey, but I must say how much love and joy I feel in this role. For me seeing my daughter be such a beautiful mum with a lovely partner working together to raise their young daughter makes me feel so happy. I guess I feel my role is to support my daughter and also be there for my granddaughter and to teach her to trust and believe in herself, as probably the greatest gift you can give a child is this in a “real and authentic way”, not just talking the talk so to speak. Also to be inspired about all the possibilities in life. I look forward to all that is to come with being a grandparent, I absolutely love it 💓

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    • Thank you, Julie. When I read familial descriptions such as yours I always marvel at the good fortune of the child or children. Your granddaughter will certainly need the courage and self esteem you will no doubt provide her.

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  7. Gary permalink

    I have four grandchildren, two of them lived with me for about a decade after birth. Their fathers were criminals and bums, so I have not only had the privilege of raising another two children, in effect, I also had the responsibility of being the appropriate “father figure” in their lives. My grandson graduated from high school, something neither his father or mother achieved, and my granddaughter, currently 13, is planning on becoming a lawyer like her grandfather. I would not have traded my experience with these kids for anything in the world.

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    • Thank you, Gary. In reading your account I had to wonder at the effects it must have had on you as well. So many people would have just turned away. But who better to guide them in ways of avoiding the mistakes and bad choices of their fathers than you, a person who no doubt had moments of questioning whether such efforts could ultimately succeed?

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  8. jkent33 permalink

    This post was thought-provoking and filled with parallels of my life as well. My paternal grandfather died when I was only 3, but my memories are only of a large built man wearing a home-made prosthesis to replace his left leg severed below his knee in an industrial accident in Russell, KY for C &O building RR cars to haul coal. I recall he was mostly surrounded by leaders in our community just visiting. Later in life gleaned from neighbors stories were told of his being kind and generous. Leading me to be so very proud to carry his last name. In his absence, my grandmother rescued me from the arms of a mere 16-year-old war bride who lacked culture, education and ambition. She reared me and educated me giving me pride and respect for all creatures and even our environment. Even today she serves as my compass, keeping me on a path for the best practices, to be giving back equally to what we take in life while having supreme respect for others. She, like my grandfather, were beacons for all to follow in our tiny microcosm in So. WV. However, my maternal grandparents were dull, insipid fundamentalist not to mention uneducated. Therefore, they gave nothing to me except to never model my life from them. At this point, I’ve had the privilege of sharing my life with 9 children with only one being my blood lineage. Both the children and I gleaned much from that experience that has molded me today. Sadly, only a few of them kept in touch. Truly, there is no shortage of children I encounter who fail to benefit from some of my philosophy and attention. Also, I eschew any warning from others regarding the problems from making acquaintances from these children. I discover most children respect me without trying. I believe I was born a nature influencer with skills to give back to those who benefit the most. My daughter managed to shun a full academic scholarship to Penn State giving it only one brief semester before retiring from education. Her mother my ex-wife did the same thing after earning the same opportunity from Pitt. In their defense, both carry extraordinarily high IQs but both made poor choices for mates after our demise. Today, recent instances between her husband and I placed huge wedges between us causing my daughter and grandson to be completely cut from their life. We rationalize such thing by saying they have greater losses than I. As elitist as it appears on the surface, we are equipped with coping devices allowing us to breathe and sustain. From our time of birth, these mechanisms are being developed to give us the strength to endure. The only cost being me to share my life bravely with others. Most of the time, I fail to receive the feedback and support I think I deserve when I attempt to be an influencer, but keep sticking my chin out because we cannot judge our success by a few turndowns. In fact, I believe without those failures; that make us keep polishing our scenarios to improve our scores we cannot grow. It is always in a state of flux forcing us to keep educating ourselves to improve our rate of acceptance. I practice what I refer to as chutzpah training every day I step away from my home. It would surprise you to discover exactly how many people take a moment to speak on a variety of subjects from a wide range of interest. My gauge for success is based on how many remember our brief encounter. Therefore, we must constantly be aware of handing things down all of the time. So toss out any ideas you may have formed about our value to others, by pulling your shield down and march forward handing things down every day ranging from advice to opinions. Don’t be a wallflower. At a dance, you have to ask everyone to dance, to get any of them!

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    • Thank you, Jerry. As always, a complex yet enlightening comment. I confess to “hiding my light” at times. I try to take the long view, though that view is obviously getting shorter by the day.

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