Starting a blog is a bit like talking in a room by yourself. Family members join the conversation over time. Then friends. Then friends of friends. Then, if we are very lucky, the press takes notice and things kick into higher gear. That press moment for Good Grandpa happened in March of this year when the New York Times featured the blog in their story, Learning to Become a Better Grandfather. Within a few weeks I signed on with a literary agent in New York, and now I have a book deal with a great publisher.
As I enter the next phase of Good Grandpa, my aim is to remain true to my mission of nurturing the next great generation.
I’ve believed from the get-go that while my parents’ generation was indeed great, if we as grandparents step it up we can make our grandkids’ generation the greatest of all time.
My plan is to harvest the collective wisdom of grandpas (and our loving grandma partners) around the world from a range of cultures, sharing the best of what I learn along the way. This is a journey, and I can’t do it alone. I will really need help from other grandparents and their families here in the U.S. and in other countries. If you know a grandpa with amazing life experiences and a great story to share, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To kick off the book project, I’m embarking on a series of interviews with grandpas. Some will be famous. Others, like me, will simply bring their own perspective. But we are all part of the same unofficial club of grandfathers.
Since I’ve talked about the greatest generation, there was one man I wanted to interview first: Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation.
In addition to being a very good grandpa, Tom has a few other modest accomplishments in his bio: He’s a legendary newsman who anchored the NBC Nightly News for decades. He’s also the recipient of numerous awards and honors including two Peabody Awards, two Emmys, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the French Legion of Honor.
In all the interviews I conduct over the next year I will ask a series of questions — and the most important of all, that #1 thing that grandpas want the next generation to know.
This is partly an homage to the movie City Slickers, starring Billy Crystal—who, by the way—is a grandpa. Can we make our future better by sharing the best nuggets of wisdom from grandpas everywhere? I’m going to find out.
Here is my interview with Tom. Please take a moment to share your own thoughts on Tom’s answers by posting a comment.
Tom, you’ve learned a lot in your long and distinguished career. As a dad and grandpa, are there lessons for grandkids you’d like to share based on your experiences?
As I often say, I think I learn more from my grandkids than they learn from me.
In your books you’ve written eloquently about the greatest generation. How can we as grandfathers help to nurture our grandkids so they have a chance to become the greatest generation of all?
Tell them every day they’ll encounter challenges. And the test will be how they learn from each experience.
Our parents were forged by the hardships of the great depression and fighting WWII. Is it possible for our grandkids to become the greatest of all time in the absence of an existential crisis that compels them to become all they can be?
Every passage of time has an opportunity for knowledge. As the world becomes more crowded mankind has an obligation to adapt to the changes – not just let the changes overwhelm us.
In your memoirs you write about your upbringing in South Dakota with very hardworking parents and grandparents. When you think about your grandparents today, what stands out?
My grandparents were the “can do” generation. Almost every chore required hands on efforts. Nothing was automatic. They were great role models, with little money, but their values were expressed through love, affection, and grandma’s donuts!
Over time you’ve evolved from being a boy, to a dad, to a grandpa. What’s an insight you can share about what you’ve learned along the way?
I grew as one of three boys and then became the grandfather of three girls. I quickly learned if given a chance the girls could hang with the boys. My neighbor was a classic tomboy who could outrun all the local boys and
skate much faster.
Do you have a sense of what your grandfather, Red, learned from your kids? Or what they learned from him?
My kids were bedazzled by Grandpa Red’s hands-on skills. One snowy Christmas we didn’t have a sled, so he took his grandkids to his workshop and showed them how to make one out of spare lumber. It became the fastest sled on the hill.
As a cancer survivor, you’ve seen your share of life challenges. How has your family helped you find strength and longevity?
I have a difficult cancer and my granddaughters look after me without requests.
What is the #1 thing? The absolutely most important piece of wisdom you want to share with the next generation?
That life is not a key on autopilot. You have to earn every move.
What’s an example of something you have to earn?
The affection of your kids.
My thoughts on Tom’s answers: When Tom responded to the #1 thing question by saying “You have to earn every move,” I thought he might have meant “learn” every move and questioned him on that. The interview was via email and he responded emphatically in all caps: YES, EARN. Adding, as an example, that even the affection of our kids must be earned. I thought this very revealing and a testament to his upbringing. When you read his memoirs, it’s clear that nothing was ever handed to him. His family was part of an incredibly hard working South Dakota family culture. To say that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth would be a huge understatement. Tom worked his way up the professional ladder to the pinnacle of his profession, and no matter what he achieved he kept at it, always earning the next step up in his life. Nothing can be taken for granted, even the affection of his kids and grandkids. Despite the challenges of old age, Tom continues to work hard at earning every single thing. This is a philosophy and way of life we can all take to heart as we go about our lives day to day.