Poppa’s Moment by Phil Larson

How far back can you remember?

My earliest memories take me back to age three, playing outside in the dirt, a playful moment with my father on a birthday, and slipping out at four years old to play in a barn down the street, where no one knew where I had gone. Another memory places me in my mother’s parents’ antique shop, talking to her father, my grandfather. The smells are still here with me. The love of the moment is still here with me. The acceptance I felt is still here with me.

Gracing the senior years brings back those kinds of memories from my childhood and reminds me that I have opportunities today to leave those kinds of lasting impressions on my children and grandchildren. Here are four ways granddads (and grandmas) can do that:

Be Received. Each of us grandfathers is a special gift to our children and grandchildren. You are a gift. And your grandkids’ memories and receptivity are not about your perfection, but their acceptance and desire for acceptance.

My father was born an orphan and his adoptive parents both died before he was 16, so there were no relatives in his family that took the place of a grandfather or great uncle. There were two women, cousins of his, that took a special place and received me and my brothers in our early years, but no men. My mother had a large family, however her father died when I was just entering school age. Again, no uncle took a place of nurturing from her family. A special aunt loved us, and I love her to this day though she is long gone into heaven.

Still, I looked for that grandfather connection. And your grandchildren (and other children) are looking for that from you.

Be Active. It was the pastor of our congregation, a Catholic minister [priest?], who became a fatherly and grandfatherly influence for me in my elementary years. He was a little gruff, but loving and engaging, and he spent time with me and watched over me. I received him as more than a pastor or priest, but in a sense as a grandfather.

Even today, his care and coaching still influence me greatly in how I treat others. Memories of the way he interacted in the community challenge me to live outside my walls. Watching him swing a shovel or seeing what he used for exercise—a barbell formed out of two buckets full of concrete connected with rebar—impressed upon me the importance of tenacity. His commitment to coach basketball for boys in the congregation helps motivate me to be around my grandchildren during their activities. Be active.

Be a Grand Father. In our later years, we have a calling like no other. Life should have mellowed us some; our desire to conquer the world has been balanced with a greater desire to love and be loved. What we have learned, we are ready to pass on to others. The mistakes we have made in life occupy our prayers for forgiveness, though we still have hope for change and a better life going forward. And we must not forget that there are young eyes standing in the antique shop that do not judge us, but look up to us for acceptance and affirmation.

My two-year-old foster grandchild hollers out to me whenever he sees me. He calls me “Poppa” like all my other grandchildren. He sits on my lap and pulls at my glasses and face, and I wonder what memories are being created in him. I also have grandchildren who live two states away, who see me more through video chats than sitting on my lap, and I wonder what memories are being formed there. (Smell-a-vision still doesn’t exist.)

Each interaction with my grandchildren could be shaping how they will view the world 60 or 70 years from now. That’s a sobering thought.

Be Blessed. The joy of being a grandfather, a poppa, a papi, pops, papa, or gramps is unlimited. Pour love and acceptance into those lives and you will live in them when they are pouring into others.


Phil Larson serves as the SW Director of Benefits and Conferences for Grandkids Matter and GrandparentBenefits.org. He and his wife, Dian, live in Oklahoma City and have four children of their own as well as many that call them mom and dad from the community. Three of those children are married, giving them a mix of six grandchildren of multi-racial background by both birth and adoption. You can contact him at 405.494.0637 or phil@grandparentbenefits.org.