A model for all grandparents

I’ve often wondered what kind of grandparents St. Anne and St. Joachim were. Did St. Anne dote over Jesus because he was her only grandchild? Did St. Joachim slip him a piece of candy when Mary and Joseph weren’t looking? Did they spoil him with gifts at Hanukkah? Did they babysit?

Grandparents play an important role in the development of every child—even the Christ Child—and although their efforts were never recorded by the Gospel writers, you can be sure Anne and Joachim did their part and can serve as an example for Catholic grandparents everywhere. After all, look at the outstanding job they did raising Our Lady.

With Baby Boomers among the growing ranks of grandparents, it’s more important than ever to step up to the plate and set a good example the way that their predecessors in the Greatest Generation did. My daughters still amuse themselves with stories about my mother and father. I only hope I can do as well, although sometimes I have my doubts.

Grandparents are fundamental to family life now that both parents are often in the workforce. I recently got stuck behind a school bus and noticed that boys and girls were getting picked up by smiling grandparents. I guess grandparents are an inexpensive resource in a competitive job market. I know from firsthand experience because my wife, Sandy, and I regularly watch our 3-year-old grandson Gabriel, although I confess it’s more work than play, and by the time we get home, I’m ready for a nap…and so is the dog.

Both my parents worked to support our family, and for a number of years I lived with my grandmother on the East Side of Bridgeport.

She was an Italian immigrant who was widowed in her early 40s. She raised nine kids during the Great Depression with no safety net, and she raised them by herself. During the years I lived with her, she would take me across the street to St. Mary Church for daily Mass, which was celebrated in a mysterious language called Latin that I couldn’t understand.

Every afternoon at lunchtime, I would lie on the floor of her apartment in front of the stove with my coloring book and crayons, while she baked two sweet potatoes, one for her and one for me. Then, she sat nearby in her rocking chair, praying the rosary. Very often, she would doze off but miraculously wake up just in time to take the potatoes out of the oven.

Years later, I still remember that simple pleasure and those moments together. And years later, I still have a devotion to the rosary because of her. Even now, in anxious and frightening times, I’ll whisper to her, “Please pray for me,” because I’m convinced of the intercessory power of her prayers. Appropriately, her name was Angelina, which means “little angel.”

Back when our children were young, our oldest daughter would stay with my parents on the weekend because four kids could be a little overwhelming for us. My mother, who was the director of religious education in her parish, would take her to Mass and make sure she knew her prayers and catechism. And every May, she had our daughters participate in the crowning of the Blessed Mother.

I confess that I could be a better power of example for my grandchildren—Lennox, Mason and Gabriel—but they tend to bring out the last vestiges of the child in me, and sometimes, it’s all about toys, candy and fooling around.

Gabriel, 3, recently told me that broccoli was his favorite food, if you can believe that—and I couldn’t. He loves broccoli so much that at a dinner party, he stole some off his uncle’s plate when he wasn’t looking. That peculiar obsession ended, however, when I introduced him to Mike and Ike candy. He would have eaten the whole box if I didn’t stop him.

Then, I asked, “What do you like better, broccoli or Mike and Ike?” His response was instantaneous—“Mike and Ike!” Hey, that’s what grandfathers are for.

I’m really proud that his parents are teaching him to say his prayers, and whenever we go out to dinner, we let him lead us in grace, to the amusement of other people in the restaurant.

Of the many things grandparents can do—from helping with college tuition to buying First Communion dresses and babysitting—the most important is setting a strong example of faith. It’s something that grandchildren will always remember.

St. Anne and St. Joachim, please pray for us grandparents and our families.