by Dr. Ken Canfield

Granddads, I hope you’re recognized and honored on Father’s Day.

As a grandfather, your grandkids are probably thinking about their dad more than they’re thinking about you, and I know you’re fine with that. Still, you play an important role as an extra companion, encourager, playmate, and role model for manhood, and in some situations you’re the main fatherly presence in your grandkids’ lives. That’s vitally important for your granddaughters, and often even more so for your grandsons.

In her article some years ago, Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker wrote about America’s “boy crisis.” There have been numerous statistics showing that boys are falling behind in school performance and other areas. Parker was responding to a study which concluded that the problem is really more about class and race, since the problem is most severe in Hispanic, African American, and poor communities. Her comments caught my attention:

It is apparently true that boys do pretty well in elementary and middle school but tend to go wobbly in high school and college. We may need to give social scientists a few more decades to pin down possible reasons for that, but I’m willing to bet my two cents on a combination of testosterone and a lack of disciplined guidance from fathers. A subject worthy of research not addressed in this study might be the correlation between poor academic performance among these same black, Hispanic and impoverished boys and the absence of fathers in the home.

She’s right, of course. And while fathers play a huge role in shaping boys, we live in an age where many fathers are absent for a variety of reasons.

That’s where grandfathers can step in, and many are.

And since education is a big part of a child’s healthy development, grandfathers can also play an important role in that—not only regarding school work, but also in life skills.

Donald Miller has written powerfully about his own experiences as a fatherless boy in his book, To Own a Dragon:

Because I didn’t have a father, I felt there was a club of men I didn’t belong to. I would have never admitted it at the time, but I wanted to belong. I desperately wanted to belong…. Every time I met an older man, I assumed he would not like me, and he would not want me around. I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes … how to throw a football or a baseball, how to catch a fish and know what kind it was…. They talked about how to look a woman in the eye and tell her she was your woman and that she looks good in that dress and make it so your eyes say you love her but you could survive without her, and how to drive a stick shift truck without grinding the gears….

It took a long time to connect the fact I didn’t like authority with the idea I felt older men were rejecting me, and even longer to realize I was really looking for the kind of validation I should have received from a father, the kind of validation no man is going to give except to his own son…. And I’ve found if you sit down with a man you trust and respect and explain to him you never learned about some area of life, girls or money, cars or computers, you would be amazed at how honored they are to help. They practically pour out their lives, for heaven’s sake.

Grandad, you can provide that validation.

You can teach skills. You can tell stories and share wisdom. You know a thing or two about relationships and the opposite sex. You’re uniquely equipped to do all of that, and I hope you are doing it for all your grandkids—granddaughters and grandsons alike. Just keep in mind that your grandsons may need it more in today’s world than ever before.

And if your grandkids have a committed and involved dad who is there for them in all these ways, then you’ll provide an added blessing.

You have the power and potential to make a huge difference in your grandkids’ lives. And please don’t forget that there are other fathers and grandfathers out there who could use some encouragement or just a listening ear. Spend time with them. Invest in their lives. Help create a strong network of men who are making a difference for the next generations.

Action Steps for Granddads:

  • What does your fathering heritage look like? Make a list of the ways you’re like your father and grandfather(s) and some ways you’re not like them. (If some of these men were absent from your life, list some ways you have grown stronger because of that challenge.)
  • Identify a child who needs a significant male role model and invite him to join you in an activity or a family event (even if it’s just dinner).
  • Identify another father or grandfather who might benefit from your wisdom and invite him out for lunch.