OPINION: How to be a better grandpa

Cumming-based Cool Grandpa podcast is resource for all grandfathers
Barry Sage-El, 69, who describes himself as the master of the sleepover, with his three granddaughters at his home in Montclair, N.J. Men have been creating new norms for grandparenting with help from a growing body of resources, including the Atlanta-based podcast, the Cool Grandpa, launched five years ago by Cumming resident Greg Payne.  (Sara Naomi Lewkowicz/The New York Times)

Credit: NYT

Credit: NYT

Barry Sage-El, 69, who describes himself as the master of the sleepover, with his three granddaughters at his home in Montclair, N.J. Men have been creating new norms for grandparenting with help from a growing body of resources, including the Atlanta-based podcast, the Cool Grandpa, launched five years ago by Cumming resident Greg Payne. (Sara Naomi Lewkowicz/The New York Times)

When I first contacted the Cool Grandpa, he was in North Carolina doing what lots of cool grandpas do — attending his granddaughter’s first birthday party. We set up time to talk once the festivities were over and he had arrived back home to metro Atlanta.

Greg Payne, creator of the Cool Grandpa podcast, has spent the past five years discovering what it means to be a grandfather. Attending birthday parties is just the start.

The podcast features adults sharing stories about the impact their grandfathers have had on their lives, grandfathers talking about what they do to be a good grandparent, and subject matter experts who discuss issues of importance to grandfathers.

Payne, 53, of Cumming, is now a devoted grandfather of three. But when his eldest grandson was on the way five years ago, he was thrown for a loop.

“In the back of my mind I was like, wait a second. I am not old enough for this,” he said. “I was looking around for what it means to be a grandfather nowadays. Who are the role models? I wanted to ask other grandfathers, ‘How are you being successful?’ I wanted to learn from them and I wanted to share it with others.”

Gary Payne, 53, of Cumming launched the Cool Grandpa podcast five years ago. He hoped to connect with men who could serve as role models for being a grandfather. (George Aubrey)

Credit: George Aubrey gaubreyphoto@gmail.com 770-888-0069

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Credit: George Aubrey gaubreyphoto@gmail.com 770-888-0069

Payne’s maternal grandpa was in his early 50s when Payne was born. Payne remembers visiting him at his home near Oregon’s Snake River and piling into his pickup truck to go on camping trips in the mountains.

Payne has been touched by the stories of many adults who have come on the podcast and shared memories of their own grandfathers and the important roles they played in their lives.

My paternal grandfather, the grandparent with whom I had the closest relationship, wasn’t actually my grandfather. He was my great-uncle. My grandfather died long before I was born, when my father was still very young, but my great-uncle lived nearby and I saw him regularly.

Uncle Hilliard taught me to play cards and slipped dollar bills to me when my parents weren’t looking. After my great-aunt died, he had more time on his hands, and we would go out for breakfast a few times a month.

During one of those meals, as I was lamenting about the ways my late-20s life seemed to be veering away from the traditional career and family path that I thought my parents expected, he reached across the table, took both of my hands in his and said, “Oh darling, don’t worry. We never expected that of you.”

The world has changed since we had that conversation about two decades ago, but much of what my grandpa-uncle said and did then are actions and words that grandfathers believe are still important today.

The average age at which men become first-time grandfathers is 51, according to a 2018 Grandparents Today survey from AARP. Seventy-nine percent of grandfathers said they play an important role in their grandchildren’s lives. They prefer to serve as mentors or valued elders in the family.

Payne said the role of grandpas has continued to evolved in part because men are living longer and grandfathers today are in better shape than in past generations. “Life expectancy has gone up and access to healthcare … we are not as broken down as our grandfathers were at the same age,” he said. “Guys didn’t used to live that long. Having a grandfather around is kind of a new thing.”

After WWII, grandfathering started to look a little different, Payne said. Men felt more freedom to show love and affection to their grandchildren. It was OK to have tea parties with granddaughters and play cards with grandsons. “They were willing to give a lot more love and affection to kids than our great-grandparents were doing,” Payne said.

But he notes that there is no single way to be a grandfather. Every circumstance and every kid is different, with different needs, even within he same family, Payne said.

One of the most important things grandfathers can do is to be intentional about communicating with their adult children when setting expectations for the role they will play in their grandchild’s life. “Think about what type of grandfather you want to be. Talk to the parents and let them know what you want to do,” he said.

When he started the Cool Grandpa podcast, resources for grandfathers were pretty slim. It has since grown into a space that feels like the 1980s when a slew of books on parenting came out, Payne said.

Gen X and Boomer grandpas, in particular, are looking for resources to assure them they are on the right track or for ways to enhance their relationships with their grandkids.

Most of the job, Payne said, is about showing up and being involved.

Words of wisdom from one grandpa to us all.

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