This is a story about a dear friend from college. The kind of guy, who as the saying goes, would give you the shirt off his back. Every good quality, this guy has got. He’s true blue and in your corner. You can depend on him, his word is gold. I feel good being around him. Comfortable; uplifted. His wife mirrors his traits — she is a gem as well. I’ve known them ever since they were dating.
They had fertility issues, just as my wife Anne and I did. They tried to have a baby but couldn’t. Just like us. They adopted a little girl who is now in her late 20s. She’s now had a baby, and she and that baby live with my friends. So my college friend, like me, is now in his mid-60s, his wife is in her late 50s, and they have both their adult daughter and baby grandson living with them. And that’s where this story really begins.
These two friends were visiting us for the weekend a few weeks ago. We were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and his wife looked at Anne and me and said, “I want y'all to be my grandson’s honorary grandparents.” She knew we would likely never have grandchildren of our own, because our adopted son is a special needs child, hampered by an array of challenges. She said she wanted us to be part of her grandson’s life as well and this seemed like a great fit.
Anne and I looked at each other. We didn’t even have to discuss it. The answer was obvious. We both said yes at the same time. I even said “thank you.” Though we weren’t totally clear on what her request meant, we still said yes — because it struck such a deep emotional chord within us. I think her request meant that the young boy will know that there are two more older people who care about him — go-to people who are there for her when needed. We’ll be honorary grandparents, whatever that comes to mean.
My friend’s wife, happy that we had said yes so quickly, then said we had to come up with names that her grandchild would call us. Normally, I’d have some quick answer, maybe even a joke, but this touched me deeply. “I need time to think about that,” I said. I sensed that Anne was ready to reel off some Grandma names for her but she held back because she could see I wanted to give it some thought.
It was an important moment for us — and for my friends, and for their family, and for our family. It was significant; not just a passing conversation. My friends also needed to know that we were taking this seriously and that we needed some time to process it. Not to process saying yes, we did that immediately. But to process the names, which at this point were more than just names — they were representations of the transformation and broadened responsibilities we had just agreed to.
I also felt, perhaps for the first time, that through our relationship with this child, our names and legacy could endure; perhaps even be passed on to her own children. It was a comforting feeling; a feeling that I realized I had been missing in my life — and yearning for. And then I pictured their family, especially the mother in her late 20s, her son and any other children she might have, having a relationship with my son, who despite his challenges has an incredible warmth and a caring and loving presence.
My son, as Anne and I have seen over and over, touches people and enriches their lives; how wonderful it would be for that connection to build between our son and the daughter and grandson of our cherished friends. (I suspect they knew that — and that was part of their motivation in asking us to play the grandparents role.)
So deep within me, I actually felt the conversation was kind of like an answer to a prayer. In my mind not only was saying yes the right thing to do, but it also opened the door to what could be a new future for my own son down the road.
I think I am at the point in my life where I am looking for signs that can provide answers to big questions. I’ve been praying for a sign that my own son is going to be okay in the future — that he will be taken care of, loved and watched over, after Anne and I are no longer here to do it ourselves.
By saying yes to being honorary grandparents, I felt that it might have opened the door to expanding my son’s own support system. After all, adding family goes both ways — it’s a two way street.
In every story I’ve written about my son I always feel that one of my motives, even subconsciously, is to speak to my own extended family; to create greater awareness about my fears and anxieties and to reach out to them and vest them in helping to provide a more secure future for my own son.
However, I didn’t say yes to our friends with an expectation in return. These thoughts about a two-way street only came to me later — not from a selfish point of view, I think, but as a way that our two families could benefit each other.
So what’s the name I want the child to call me? TC, my initials and a nickname from growing up that evokes many pleasant memories. And what name does Anne want? Tookie, a nickname her dad gave her when she was a kid and one that her two brothers, sister, nieces and nephews call her to this day.
TC and Tookie — that’s who we are going to be. What’s going to be for my own son is not as certain, though I am more hopeful than ever, because I believe that I was sent a sign.