I want to share this with you in case you no longer have your grandfather alive or to inspire you to dig a little bit into the lives of your grandparents while you have the chance.
While driving to the mountains of Tennessee last week to visit my Grandparents, I had a brainstorm: I would interview my Grandfather about his life and record the audio. My plan was to ask my grandfather, father, and then myself the same questions to create a podcast with all three of us reflecting on life. My grandfather (I call him Granddaddy) is 87 and doesn’t tell a lot of stories. So an interview is a good excuse to get him to tell me more (turns out I was using his technique against him).
I already had some information about his life to build on. He wrote an autobiography 25 years ago; he has written me a letter every Sunday for most of my life, no matter where I lived. And he took me to see my ancestral homeland in West Virginia when I was around 13. So I know a bit about the important milestones of his life
For this interview, I wanted get more of his thoughts about Masculinity, Spirituality, Work, Money, and People. In these new stories, Granddaddy highlighted the importance of his Christian values, along with respectfulness, listening, and industriousness.
We don’t often get the opportunity to reach up to our elders for advice or mentorship (we are always trying to figure out life with our age peers). I want to share this with you in case you no longer have your grandfather alive or to inspire you to dig a little bit into the lives of your grandparents while you have the chance. Here are some of the things I learned.
It seems that at times we are two men: the man we see ourselves to be, and that which others see. Granddaddy has a lot of respect for his father. Going so far as to say he thought his father was a better man than he. And that he believes his father used to say the same thing about his grandfather.
He told me a story about the respect he had for his father. My great grandfather paid back the debt he had incurred during the depression (about $150). Even when all the debts had been forgiven by law, and even when he only had an extra dollar each week. I also have a lot of respect for him taking a stand on his values.
Maybe it is natural to think one can always do more as a parent, and my granddaddy said wished he had been there more for his sons (my uncle and father). From the outside, however, it sounded like he did a lot for them. “I tried to expose them to wholesome experiences like band, church, and boy scouts,” he said.
I asked him about what he was proud of creating, and he mentioned building a stone wall in his yard and building a room in his basement. Personally, I’m proud that he still does all the work to maintain an immaculate yard and garden despite being 87.
I asked him when he felt like he became a man instead of a boy. He said that manhood could be broken into different parts: physical, mental, and spiritual. For him, the physical part of manhood happened early (in high school), while mental and spiritual manhood is an ongoing process.
We all need some guiding principles and values to help us make tough decisions. The biggest pillar of my grandfather’s life is his Christianity. He reads the Bible through every year. For him, the Bible is where you should get your values from–to help guide the way you live. “You can’t just go on feelings.”
He didn’t focus on this as much as I did. But, I felt the importance of the community he got from church, especially the men’s Sunday school class (which used to be 200 strong).
I asked Granddaddy about the most influential mentors in his life, and he talked about the influence of his preacher of 20 years as a young man. This minister appeared to have taken great personal care to introduce my grandfather to important spiritual and idealistic ideas.
Even when Granddaddy was making only $48 dollars a week ($43 after taxes), he made it a point to tithe 10% of his income to the church. He believes it’s likely that that one will experience a better life in some way (health and relationships) that will offset the financial cost of tithing.
Granddaddy was heavily influenced by the scarcity of the depression and WWII, which taught him to be financially conservative. And, only buy what was needed and ignore wants (such as too many clothes or fancy cars).
I have a lot of respect for the longevity of my grandfather’s career. He was an accountant for 59 years until he retired at age 84. He reckons that his peers would say his best skills were industriousness and perfectionism. He told me worked so many years to keep his mind sharp and keep being useful.
Upon my grandmother’s suggestion, they paid extra on their mortgage each month and paid their home loan off 15 years early. They have been debt free for around 50 years and prioritize not going into debt.
At the beginning of our interview he mentioned, “I don’t relate to people as well as I’d like to.” Which I thought was an odd comment because everywhere we went in his town, people were flagging him down to say hello, and he knew everyone’s name (maybe he should run for mayor).
I asked him how he got to be friendly with so many people, and he said, “My approach is to not talk myself but to listen and learn.” Which sounds a lot like interviewing people for a podcast–I wonder if I inherited this?
When talking about how to relate to all different kinds of people, he said, “If you are respectful, people will respond well.”
The biggest takeaway for me was how my grandfather’s life is neatly guided by Christian values and spirituality, and few simple ideas like respect and industriousness can take you a long way.
Granddaddy doesn’t have many of regrets; the ones he mentioned largely related to being more open minded and connecting with people (which he has clearly worked to improve). One of his best skills in connecting with people was his curiosity in getting skilled people to talk about their work (he could have been a podcaster!).
I am supremely grateful that I have a living, loving set of grandparents that I can visit and spend time with and listen to. I hope that my interest in their lives will do justice to the privilege of having them around.
Pictures are the author’s own.