Many men hope they can be the best dad they can for their kids. Jason Williams has set his sites differently. He wants to be the best grandfather he can be for his kids’ future children. Here is why.
At the time of this writing, I am 32 years old. My kids are 9, 7, and 5. I figure I’m at least 15 years away from having grandchildren, but I’m already trying to prepare for them.
About three years ago, someone (wiser than I am) told me something that someone (wiser than he is) had told him: “Don’t think of your children as your children. Think of them as your grandchildren’s parents.” My mind was blown, and ever since I’ve been trying to figure out what that epiphany means for me. I needed to learn how to train for my grandchildren.
The obvious first step was to pay more attention to the behavior I model for my children in daily life. It can be sobering to imagine your children treating their children the way they are treated, mainly because you think of your mistakes first. My children are four-foot-tall mirrors, and in them I saw myself acting more like Ralph Kramden than Andy Taylor. It was embarassing.
In her wisdom, my wife Amanda was able to help me by suggesting I try to remember what it’s like to be their age. Thanks to her, I was able to find compassion.
Instead of getting angry when our oldest draws on furniture, I remember how I used a souvenir pocket knife to carve up the door frame and cabinets in my bathroom when I was her age. Rather than feeling irritated when the kids insist they can’t leave their grandparents’ houses without a drink and snack for the trip home (a grueling 15-minute trek), I remind myself that I still hit the fridge and cabinets every time we visit my parents and in-laws. And when I start to feel put out because our youngest says he gets nervous going to the bathroom alone, I think back on all the times I made my mother and grandmother go in there with me to keep me company when I was little.
Through compassion, I began to find patience. It’s hard for me to overreact to how senseless and impulsive my kids are being when I think of how often I’ve been senseless and impulsive.
Along with trying to model grace, I also started looking for ways to instill habits I want my grandchildren’s parents to have. So they can learn to be providers, my kids work for their money instead of being given an allowance. So they can learn to have strong marriages, my wife and I emphasize that our relationship is the most important one in the house. So they can learn to enjoy their own children, I’m learning the embrace the messiness of life and say “Yes” more often.
As I started to appreciate what it means to be in training for my grandchildren, I realized there was more to it than just raising my kids to be good parents. Beyond training my children emotionally and mentally, I needed to train myself physically.
I had already been thinking in that direction for my own kids thanks to an experience I had about seven years ago while Amanda and I were leading the Youth Group at our church. I was horsing around with Isaac, an athletic 15-year-old boy, and we decided to race. It wasn’t even close. That failure made me do a quick mental calculation. At the time, my oldest son was 1. If I couldn’t keep up with Isaac when I was 25, I reasoned, how on earth would I keep up with my son when I was 39? Since that time, I had been trying to keep up a regular exercise routine.
As I began to think about my grandchildren, however, I realized exercise was only part of the picture. Sure I was lifting and running, but my nutrition was terrible. I finished everybody’s leftovers at supper. I would hit the CiCi’s Pizza buffet like I was Pac-Man. I saw a holiday dessert table as a personal endurance challenge. But the more I researched nutrition and the effects of excess starchy carbs and stored body fat, the more I realized I needed to evaluate my eating habits.
For as long as I can remember, there are only two health conditions I’ve ever worried about, and they’re both present in my family tree: diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Among other things, I began learning how having excess body fat and eating too many starchy carbs can lead to insulin resistance, which is a hallmark of diabetes and can increase Alzheimer’s risk because it deprives the brain of fuel. Thankfully, I also found a way to combat insulin resistance—by naturally increasing a hormone called IGF-1. The best ways to do that are getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables and lean protein, and strenuous exercise.
In light of that finding, I’ve made big changes to my diet and exercise regimen because when my grandchildren come over to play, I don’t want to be a spectator. I want to be able to do everything with them I did with their parents and then some. More than that, though, I can remember growing up watching relatives suffer with fluctuating blood sugar, and I’ve had grandparents forget who I was. I want better for my grandchildren. So, I train.
Beyond any emotional or physical foundation I’m trying to lay for my grandchildren, for my family the most important element is our spiritual foundation. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.” I believe the most powerful legacy a father can leave is one of strong faith in Jesus Christ. To that end, every night my wife and I pray with our children, and almost every night we do bible study with them. During those times (and at other appropriate moments), I try to stay open for opportunities to discuss my flaws and how I’m overcoming them through the transformative power of prayer. When necessary, I ask their forgiveness. They know I couldn’t make this journey alone. And when they are adults dealing with their own shortcomings as people and parents, they will be equipped with the most effective tool in the universe to help them become the parents my grandchildren deserve.
Three years into this odyssey of sorts, I believe I’ve made genuine progress. The motto, “In training for my grandchildren,” helps me stay focused. Sometimes it smiles approvingly, and sometimes it just hangs its head, but it’s always there. When I’m tired, stressed, or discouraged, it keeps me going.
After all, my grandkids are counting on me.