My father was part of that generation of men who expressed their affection toward their loved ones not through words but chiefly through practical acts of provision. And so his first response upon learning that he had just become a grandfather should not have surprised me.
I, being of a different generation, did not once leave my wife alone during the grueling 16 hours of labor that led to the birth of our first child. When my son finally arrived safely into the world, I wasted no time phoning my parents, who lived 1000 miles away, to inform them of the thrilling news.
“You’re grandparents,” I enthused. “It’s a boy.”
I waited, as on the other end of the line, my parents digested this long anticipated announcement.
And then my father said, “What’s his social security number?”
“What?” I replied. Not the response I had expected.
“I want to set up a college fund for him. I can’t do that without his social security number.”
“Um, he doesn’t have one yet.”
“Better get to that. Time’s a wasting.”
Good God, I thought, twenty minutes ago the kid was still a fetus.
Yet knowing that my father would hound me until the matter was addressed, within days I made sure that my son had a social security number. And half an hour (15 minutes?) after that, my father made damn sure that his grandson had a college fund. As always, he had done his research well ahead of time.
I’m not a shortsighted man. Left to my own devices I undoubtedly would have opened a savings account of some sort for my son during his first year of life. It just didn’t occur to me to do it during those initial sublime minutes following his birth when I was cradling him in my arms for the first time.
My dad and I, well, we’re different that way.
Still now that my father has passed from this earth I have developed a deep admiration for his uncanny ability to provide in practical ways for his family. And being a writer, I have come to regard the college fund my father established for his grandson as an apt metaphor for my own relationship with my son.
My father set up the fund so that every month an automatic transfer of an unvarying amount is deposited into my son’s account from my parents’ account. For over 16 years now, 12 times a year, that transfer has been made. The economic markets, as always, have fluctuated during that time. What that means is that when my son’s account is down in value the automatic transfer purchases more stock than when the account is doing well. And over time, it all adds up to a significant amount of money.
I’m no economist, but I do appreciate the value of regular deposits, in good times and bad. When my son was born I vowed not to let a day go by without telling him that I love him. My own automatic transfers, if you will.
My son has been around for almost 6000 days now and I’m happy to say that I’ve kept that vow for the vast majority of them. Admittedly, some days the words, “I love you, Sam,” have been harder to say than on others. For example, that day back in 2002, when we spent Father’s Day playing in the park together and then went on that long walk through the woods hand in hand and then he cuddled up on the sofa with me after giving me a homemade card and said, “Yur the bestest Dad, ever,” yeah, that was an easy one. On the other hand, that day back when he was in 8th grade and after repeated warnings to be careful he had that unfortunate mishap with my favorite … ok, some things are best forgotten.
But here’s what I have discovered–– the days when I express my love, even though it’s hard to do, end up more valuable in the big scheme of things than those days when saying “I love you,” is easy. And over time, the cumulative value of all those expressions of affection adds up to a significant relationship.
Just a couple more years now, and the time will come for my son to withdraw from that college fund his grandfather so foresightedly created for him when little Sam was but a few days old. And as he moves out on his own into this challenging world, no doubt there will also be days when my son will have to dig deep into his memory and draw upon all those bedtime hugs and heartfelt words of affection I’ve tried to remember to give him day after day after day.
Sam, my son, when those days come, know that you have been doubly blessed by a father and a grandfather who have loved you as best as they both knew how.