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Like my grandpa used to say …


My grandson wont be 1 for another month.

That means I’ve still got some time.

But in a few years, he’ll expect me to do more than volunteer my clothing as a drop cloth for his drool.

Somewhere along the line, he’ll start expecting me to say things that, later in life, he can use as conversation fillers.

As someone whose illusions about success have always depended on a fervent effort to keep others’ expectations low, this worries me.

Because I know the day will come when, between sips of beer, or while looking idly into the sky, he’ll want to lean back and tell a friend: “Like my grandpa used to say ….”

And that’s when he’ll want to avoid most of the things I actually say, things like: “Where do you keep the toilet paper?” and “Do you guys have any diet cola?” and “Honey, will you pass the Spam?”

He’ll want to be able to pull out nuggets of wisdom — utterances, if you will — to complete the sentence he’s already committed himself to speaking.

A recent check of my nuggets and utterances department found it as empty as the blank pages between the covers of gag books with titles like “The Wit and Wisdom of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew.”

The good news?

Because this disturbed me, I got to work, and I think I’ve come up with the first nugget.

It contains the wisest advice I know about the clearest path to securing success in an area of life I consider more important than virtually any other.

And now I look forward to the day when Atticus can lean back and utter: “Like my grandpa used to tell me: ‘Choose your parents well.’”

Granted, this has one theoretical drawback: We don’t actually choose them.

But, for me, that is a plus in a couple of ways.

First, it gives the statement enough of a taste of the moron that those who know me can testify to its authenticity.

So before a friend of his can say something like “Your grandpa said a lot of weird stuff,” my daughter, son or son-in-law can come to Atticus’ rescue with an affirmation like: “Yep, that sure sounds like your grandpa.”

Second: That whiff of moron allows what wisdom the statement has to stand out.

In truth, though, there are fewer people more important in our lives than the ones to whom we’re born.

There are the people we marry.

But at least in that instance, someone usually has the courtesy to sound the alarm contained in the words “For better, for worse; for richer or poorer; in sickness and in health; until death do us part.”

This also helps to support the real estate market, because those who say “I do” can immediately be added to the call list for agents selling low-lying land in Florida.

But babies are afforded even that choice.

They don’t get to choose whether their parents are married or whether they care for one another, presented not necessarily in the order of importance.

They don’t have a say in whether their parents make or are provided enough money to support them; whether their parents were really interested in becoming parents in the first place; or whether, when that’s not the case, they might endeavor to do right for the sake of a new life dependent on them.

That’s not the whole picture, of course, because aunts, uncles and grandparents can be caring and responsible people as well.

Nor, however, does it touch on the more extreme circumstances in which a child might enter the world: in the midst of a dangerously abusive relationship; addicted to a drug he or she never willfully ingested; or in danger of “failing to thrive” by virtue of an environment that fails them.

None of this that people born in a variety of circumstances can’t make their own decisions, pick up from where they are and live as successfully as anyone else.

But it does mean that those who pretend it’s otherwise were, in a sense, born yesterday.


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