Nurturing the Next Great Generation

Author: grandpateddy1

From The Boys in the Boat to Head of the Charles, with Fred Schoch

On August 14, 1936, rowing crews from six countries competed for the gold medal at the Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. Adolf Hitler was in the stands, cheering on his…

On August 14, 1936, rowing crews from six countries competed for the gold medal at the Olympic games in Berlin, Germany.

Adolf Hitler was in the stands, cheering on his team along with thousands crowding the stands at the Grunau Regatta Course. There were eight rowers and one coxswain per boat on the 2000-meter race, one oar per rower, with a photo finish that became legend as the American team took home the gold. The story of the team’s journey from their humble origins in Washington state to becoming heroes is brilliantly told by Daniel James Brown in his classic book, The Boys in the Boat. A move adaptation directed by George Clooney is coming out in December 2023.

But there is another story here that’s important to tell. One that spans generations that lived before 1936, and after, and will extend into the future.

The nine American rowers in the boat that day had an extra teammate, an alternate ready to replace anyone injured or ill prior to competition. His name was Delos “Dutch” Schoch (according to family lore, at one point when Dutch was filming the team, he was standing in the way of Hitler’s view and was summarily asked to move; when I learned this it made me wish a lot more men had stood in Hitler’s way in 1936).

Fred’s dad, Dutch Schoch.


After serving in the navy in WWII, Dutch became head rowing Coach at Princeton. The love of rowing was passed on to Dutch’s son, Fred Schoch, who’s played a leading role in building one of the great sports competitions in the world today, the Head of the Charles Regatta held yearly in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

I’m talking with lots of grandpas these days as I conduct research for my book, The Good Grandpa Project, and when I found out Fred is a grandpa, I knew I had to meet up with him over coffee.

I wanted to know how his upbringing has guided him through life, and what lessons he’s learned. And I sought to ask him the question I’m asking of all grandpas: what is the #1 piece of wisdom that will help today’s kids become the next great generation?

The following are some highlights from our conversation:

How did your upbringing shape who you’ve become?

My dad was this heroic Hemingwayesque figure. Big as I am, burly. A revered coach. He was a man of few words, but when he spoke you really paid attention. I grew up in this kind of storybook town of Princeton [New Jersey], back in the 50s. Princeton was a sleepy little town of probably 30,000 people back then. But we used to go to the basketball games and see Bill Bradley play. I think I was shaped by not only my father, but the impressive young oarsmen at Princeton. As I got bigger, I got to go on trips with them and the kids would playfully throw me up in the luggage rack of the charter bus when we went to New Haven. I started as a coxswain when I was 10 years old and even steered one of my father’s crews in the 1960 Olympic Trials in Syracuse, New York. So, I grew up around them and could be a part of the workouts. And later, when I got big enough, I started rowing with them.

What do you remember about your dad?

One of the fondest memories I have of my dad was on wintery Sunday afternoons; we had an open Willy’s jeep, and we lived on 15 acres with lots of oak trees and we burned a fire all winter in our prerevolutionary farmhouse. We’d go deep back into the woods, and we’d cut fallen trees. We didn’t have to say a lot. But I was the splitter and he was running the heavy Sears and Roebuck chainsaw. And so, I learned how to split logs and actually wrote a poem to my son, Willard, about that experience, the father/son relationship. And I gave it to him for his birthday probably 10 years ago. Your relationship with your kids is so important. I took my youngest son to the airport recently and he said, “Dad, I’m really glad you gave me a ride because it’s more than that. It’s symbolic. I want you to know how important you are and how much I want you to be in my life.” Wow.

Did you have a chance to know your grandfathers?

Both of my grandfathers died in their 50s before I was born, and my dad died of a coronary at 56. There is a big hole in my history in terms of knowing my grandparents, and I want to pass on as much as I can to my grandchildren. You begin to think about the uncertainty of our own lives when you hit 70. As the saying goes, “The lights can go out at any time.” Having time together is important. That’s why I’ve just made a commitment to retire and start consulting part time.

When you think of a creating a lasting legacy for your grandkids, what things come to mind?

I think it’s important to pass on the basic building blocks of being a good human being and being honest. A tireless work ethic was something both my parents passed on to me. As a late bloomer I had struggles, you know, but I stuck with it and came out the other side academically, and even started my career as a secondary school English teacher. It seemed like it was never going to happen, but it did. While I didn’t know my grandfathers, I’m sure they had to work hard for what they achieved. I think a sense of humility is so important in life and to respect other people. I want to make sure they’re grounded. And I think that’s something that I can pass on that I received from my father.

What lessons are there in sports for our grandkids?

Rowing has given me so much because there’s no hiding in this grueling team sport. There’s no superstars. It’s like the total teamwork demonstrated by The Boys in the Boat. I have a recent example. An aspiring rower applying to colleges told me he had achieved a certain score on an indoor rowing machine used to test fitness, and I found out later he lied to me. It’s B.S. I mean, he lied to me but he’s lying to himself. He’s afraid. I believe in redemption, but he’s going to have to turn it around. A friend of mine is a coach at Marietta College who’s a philosophy major and he talks about an analogy of a lamp; the shadow outside of the lamp shade is where you have to go as an athlete, into that pain cave. When you’re competing it can really, really hurt. You have to you be able to peer into that darkness and not be afraid to go there. You have to prepare yourself mentally to embrace the unknown. It’s true in all sports. Some people take shortcuts. And some people refuse to take shortcuts — the successful ones. It’s about loyalty to your teammates and being honest with them and yourself.

What’s the #1 thing?

In life, you’re going to have so many ups and downs. Trust who you are and that you’re going to figure it out. It’s going to be okay. Just be resilient and keep marching forward. In grad school, I kept a piece of paper taped to my bulletin board with a saying from the German poet Goethe that read “work and despair not.” That pithy aphorism kept me going many late nights. I hope my grandchildren will absorb some of my wisdom and benefit from my experience.

My thoughts on Fred’s story: It brings to mind the idea that all of us are living history. From one generation to the next there is a bond that outlasts time, with evergreen lessons we can build on and shape into our own, and give again. And sometimes it’s the really simple things, like cutting wood in a forest—without talking—that says how much we love our children.

What are activities that you do with your grandkids that they will remember? Please post your comments to join the conversation. 

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Unsilly Wisdom from John Cleese

  A big part of my research for The Good Grandpa Project book entails meeting with grandpas of all kinds, from the famous to the unknown: Movie stars, African villagers,…

The author with the Minister of Silly Walks, John Cleese.


A big part of my research for The Good Grandpa Project book entails meeting with grandpas of all kinds, from the famous to the unknown: Movie stars, African villagers, Vermonters, New York Captains of Industry, Native Americans, and everyone else I can think of.

My goal is to gather and curate the stories and collective wisdom of grandpas so we can better nurture the next great generation.

I have a hunch that as I hear the stories of grandpas from different backgrounds and cultures that patterns will emerge. At present I can see glimpses of leaves through a nebulous white fog. The more people I meet, the more I’ll see trees, then forests, and the undulating roots beneath that connect everything into a greater vision.

It’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with taking a step. I’ve been asking myself, who can I meet with right now? Who has a unique perspective and stories to tell? Most important, who might be able to share the kind of wisdom that only emerges through a long and eventful life?

John Cleese, of course!

I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with John on several marketing projects years ago. On the first project, John was cast as several characters in my script for The Institute for Backup Trauma, a digital marketing project for a client launching a more reliable product for data backup. John played the head of the institute— Dr. Harold Twainweck—who catered to people who had lost their minds after losing their data. Being a ham myself, I made sure I wrote myself a cameo so I could appear briefly on camera with him.

In addition to playing the role of Twainweck, John gamely wore a dress, curly wig and tight red sweater to play the role of Hilda, an office manager.

The author with John Cleese (Hilda in The Institute for Backup Trauma).

John carried it well, and still managed to keep his mustache, lending him the appearance of an elderly cross-dresser. Ron DeSantis would have banned him from Disneyworld.

John has played many roles since the time he worked with me, including that of Nearly Headless Nick, one of the Hogwarts ghosts in Harry Potter. But these days John also plays the role of grandfather, presumably managing to keep his head on.

My friend Doug and I met up with John over lunch recently when he was in town to do a show. It turned out to be a sprawling and fascinating 2-hour lunch conversation. I’ve been a fan of John’s work since his early days with Monty Python, so it was a real treat to kick back, have a good meal and just talk. Of course, a few tidbit remembrances of those days were served, such as the crafting of the Parrot Sketch. Apparently, John and his main writing partner, the late great Graham Chapman, knew that the dead animal returned to the pet shop could not be a dog or cat because people are rather fond of them, but everyone hates parrots.

In the course of our conversation, I mentioned that I was writing The Good Grandpa Project and hunting for people who could share the #1 thing, the most essential wisdom they believed would help the next generation.

John immediately jumped in. “It’s very simple,” he said, “because I’m reading about this all the time: It’s more important to find out what’s right than to know you’re right.”

When I pressed him to unpack this idea, he explained that for two hundred years everyone knew that Newton’s laws of physics were the last word, then Einstein came along with the theory of relativity and the old assumptions went out the window. Then quantum physics upended even Einstein’s brilliance. The mindset of assuming one knows the truth can be highly detrimental, whereas finding the answer—which can be a long, painful, fascinating, beautiful journey—is what really matters.

I love this idea and I’m glad I had a chance to talk with John in the early stages of my quest to better understand grandfatherhood. At no point can I truly believe I know the answer. The magic will be in traveling to find it.

John Cleese may be a comedic lion in winter—his 84-year-old legs long past the silly walks stage—but he’s still sharp as a tack and as funny as ever. His show the night of our lunch was billed as “An Evening with the Late John Cleese.” I laughed uproariously, gleefully, endlessly, a 64-year-old grandpa who felt 17 again.

Thank you, Mr. Cleese. I’m so happy you are not dead yet.

Dear Grandpa reader: would you like to share your essential wisdom? Do you have a story to tell that can help nurture the next great generation? Post a comment here. And feel free to email me at 

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Calling All Grandpas!

Getting a book deal is exciting. Now comes the hard part — writing a good book. Writing is usually considered a solo endeavor, but in the case of Good Grandpa…

Getting a book deal is exciting. Now comes the hard part — writing a good book.

Writing is usually considered a solo endeavor, but in the case of Good Grandpa I know I can’t do this alone. I will be traveling around the U.S. and other countries to meet with grandpas from different backgrounds and cultures. I’m hunting for fascinating life stories that have powerful lessons built into them; unique cultural differences that make grandparenting experiences different from my own. And, most of all, finding anything that shines a light on the kind of wisdom that only comes with advancing years.

Instagram is populated with “influencers,” most often young and beautiful people hawking luxury handbags. I have nothing against youth and fashion. But I think it’s time for more influencers who are in their 60s to 90s and beyond.

Let’s influence people to bring about major societal changes that make the world a better place. And have fun along the way.

If you know of a grandpa with a story to tell and wisdom to share, here’s my email: I will do my best to respond to every email I receive.

Love to all,


P.S. Some people have asked me, “What about the grandmas?” I value grandmas equally, and I would not be half the man I am without my wife of 38 years. But I happen to be a grandpa so I can write from experience. A Good Grandma book would be great, written most authentically by a grandma.

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The Good Grandpa Tom Brokaw Interview

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…

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

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.

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A Beacon Across Time. The story of a grandpa, his son and grandsons visiting the lighthouse run by their ancestor.

In 1837 Nathaniel Gamage, Jr. became the second keeper of the Pemaquid Lighthouse in New Harbor, Maine. He and other lighthouse keepers up and down the New England coast were…

In 1837 Nathaniel Gamage, Jr. became the second keeper of the Pemaquid Lighthouse in New Harbor, Maine.

He and other lighthouse keepers up and down the New England coast were called “wickies,” named after the whale-oil soaked wicks of the lanterns they were tasked with trimming and keeping alight to alert ships nearing the rocky shore.

On a hot sunny September day 186 years later, a new group of travelers came to the lighthouse: my wife and I, along with Jack and Kalley Moore, their son Ryan (our son in law), and the two grandsons we have in common — Henry and Charlie. Jack, Ryan and the boys are all direct descendants of Nathaniel Gamage.

This was more than a typical tourist visit. It was more like a homecoming.

To say that the Pemaquid Lighthouse is iconic doesn’t do it justice. It sits atop a rise of granite high above the ocean, and on the day of our visit the white of the majestic tower was matched by the whitecaps of the waves stretching out across the horizon. Henry and Charlie scrambled over the rocks and darted around the throngs of visitors lining up to ascend up the lighthouse.

While we waited our turn in line, Jack let the State Park ranger know about the Moore family’s ancestral tie to the lighthouse. The lanky ranger was in his 60s, a retired cop with a thick Maine accent. As soon as he heard that not one but THREE generations of Gamage descendants were visiting his whole face lit up. Other people in line heard the news as well and we all joined in a lively conversation, with the park ranger sharing history and chatting with Henry and Charlie.

I brought the boys through the house attached to the lighthouse, now a museum. They were thrilled to see the artifacts on display, including the name of their great, great, great, great (at least this many greats) grandfather listed on a plaque.

Soon it was our turn to go up into the lighthouse. The stairs were narrow and steep, and we grandpas and grandmas ascended cautiously while the boys were eager to sprint.

There was just enough room at the top for our extended family. I think it’s fair to say we all felt a sense of wonder being there. The view was of course breathtaking, looking out through the glass to a panoramic and classic view of the Maine coastline.

In the center was the light, surrounded by our family. The brilliant sunshine hit the curved Fresnel glass lens and refracted around us.

We were there in the present, yet with a sense that the lighthouse itself was a beacon that shone across the years to the time of grandpa Gamage. I wondered what Nathaniel would have said if someone had told him that someday this visit would happen, that his future family would stop by in a few hundred years, with these amazing kids a testament to his legacy.

While I am not related to grandpa Gamage, he and I have the very best things in common: Henry and Charlie, and the joy of passing on a little bit of who we are to the next generations to come. For me, this was a shining, shimmering revelation.

After we’d very carefully descended the winding stairs, Ryan and the boys went down to the shore to walk and play along the rocks by the crashing waves. I could see them in the distance silhouetted against the water as the boys held up discovered shells for dad to see, or jumped from rock to rock, while seagulls swooped and soared above.

Grandpa Jack


Grandson Henry. See the resemblance?

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10 Life Lessons (When I’m Sixty-Four!)

I turned 64 on July 16th and as The Beatles’ song rang through my mind (“When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…”) I took a moment…

I turned 64 on July 16th and as The Beatles’ song rang through my mind (“When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now…”) I took a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned over the years. Here goes, in no particular order of importance.

#1. Don’t wait for a global pandemic to live your best life.

For decades I slogged through heavy traffic to commute into Boston to work at the ad agency I co-founded, Captains of Industry. I thought that being successful meant having employees and a nice office. It wasn’t until the pandemic struck and we closed down the office that I realized the full depth of just how miserable I’d been for a long time. When we closed the office and I began working from my home in Vermont I felt like I’d been let out of jail. No commuting. No management hassles. This morning, like a lot of mornings, I woke at 5 and went for a long swim. After breakfast I read a book to my grandson, and now I’m in my home office. This is good. Very, very good.

#2. Make health your job.

When I was running my agency at our Boston office I was so stressed out my health went into a downward spiral. I will spare you the details, but let’s just say it was incredibly awful. These days I have a to-do list on Google docs and at the top is whatever workout I have planned for that day. I feel great, I’m twice as productive than I was a few years ago, and I make more money.

#3. Being kind is the best investment you can make.

Coming back to The Beatles (they are after all still my favorite band), they sang “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” I’ve learned this lyric actually underestimates the value of generous love and kindness. When I’m kind to others it’s always returned in greater measure. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

#4. There is no such thing as a Red or Blue State.

Have you ever been to a family gathering when one of your relatives (let’s call him Steve) finally leaves and as soon as he’s gone you say to your spouse, “Jeeze, can you believe that guy? Was he raised by wolves?” Then, a few months later, something challenging happens in your life and Steve is the first to call and offer to help. That’s what America is. We have our differences, but at the end of the day we are one big family. Often dysfunctional, but a family nevertheless.

#5. Creative ideas are all around us.

We just have to listen to find them. The main barrier to creativity is the mental clammer that usually buzzes around in our minds. When I meditate, I gradually calm down the brain buzz, and when I reach a quieter and more focused state all kinds of creative ideas reveal themselves to me. The ideas have been there all along, like puppies pawing at a door, and when distraction is gone the door opens. I keep a pad of paper handy to write down what the puppies tell me.

#6. The best feature on your smart phone is airplane mode.

Related to point #5, turning off the phone helps prevent distraction — the top plague of modern life.

#7. People who want you to worry about eating red meat or Cheetos are unhealthy to be around.

We can’t eat these things every day in mass quantities, but let’s bust loose now and then and enjoy ourselves without stressing about it. Have you had Cheetos lately? Yes, the day-glow color of Cheetos does not exist in nature, and the ingredients will never appear in any cookbook. But come on, they are indescribably crunchy and yummy. And a good steak, right off the grill, is a recipe for happiness.

#8. Our perception of time is tied to the quality of stories.

As a writer, I focus on telling a good story and don’t worry about making it too long. Horrible 90-minute movies are interminable. The original Godfather, at nearly 3 hours, is a classic that goes by in the blink of an eye.

#9. People won’t laugh if they are confused.

This is something John Cleese told me when I wrote a script for him, and he’s right. I later asked him how this lesson related to the concept of medieval knights “riding” around banging coconuts together. Why would audiences not find that confusing? The answer of course was that in that particular off-kilter world it all made perfect sense. The reason why many comedies are not funny is that they fail to establish a consistent and understandable universe that doesn’t confuse the audience.

#10. We are all connected in ways science does not yet explain.

My late Aunt Lois used to tell the story of a man named Willard Haskell that she knew in high school. In the Second World War he was a pilot stationed in England. One night she had a vivid dream that he was flying overhead in a squadron of bombers and he was leaning out the window of the cockpit waving goodbye. When Lois woke up that morning she learned that the D-Day landings were underway. Two weeks later she found out that Willard’s plane had been shot down on D-Day, at the same time she had the dream. The lesson: All the people we know and love are always with us in a vast and interconnected web that transcends time and space.

#11. Never let anyone put artificial limits on what you can or should do.

10 lessons was the original limit here, but who cares. One of the best things about the movie “This is Spinal Tap” is that the band’s amplifier goes to 11. So, turn up the volume. Go beyond the expected. Have a ball. Life is too short for anything less.

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A Tale of Two Pilots (and the Generational Value of Longevity).

It was an early morning in July 1918, cloudy with a strong wind blowing as the American pilot flew his Nieuport 28 biplane over Chamery, a hamlet of Coulonges-en-Tardenois not…

It was an early morning in July 1918, cloudy with a strong wind blowing as the American pilot flew his Nieuport 28 biplane over Chamery, a hamlet of Coulonges-en-Tardenois not far from the front lines. His mission:  Scout out and shoot down German reconnaissance. The fields of France were lush and green below, expanding out to the horizon where a glimmer of sun shone through the clouds, with dark trenches coiled through the fields like venomous snakes.

The roar of the planes behind him was his first sign of trouble.

He turned with alarm to see three Fokker Chasse planes bearing down on him from above. He yanked the stick hard to maneuver and climb into a more favorable fighting position, hearing the rattling bursts of machine gun fire growing nearer. It was too late. Within seconds, he was shot twice in the back of the head. His plane turned over on its back and plunged to Earth.

Back home on Long Island, the young man’s father—former President Theodore Roosevelt—mourned deeply from afar. Roosevelt put on a brave face for the press, but many believed he was so heartbroken he never recovered, and died barely a year after his favorite son, Quentin.

In the same French skies that year was another American pilot, Lieutenant Frederick L. Fish. The son of a Vermont State Supreme Court justice, Fred was tall, with short-cut sandy brown hair, a long face with an aquiline nose and clear grey-blue eyes. As he flew, Fred looked down at the battle below, a muddy moonscape of devastation, trenches separated by undulating piles and pits from shell blasts, shattered tree trunks pointing at twisted angles.

Fred pulled the trigger. But instead of firing a machine gun, he was snapping the shutter of a camera mounted to his plane, photographing enemy positions to provide intelligence to army headquarters. Fred was smart. Resourceful. Brave. Lucky as hell.

Fred was also my grandfather.

After the war, Fred Fish became a successful salesman, and in middle age became a Colonel in the Air Force in WWII to help organize allied resources for the D-Day landings.

I got to know Gramp very well, thankfully, when I was a teenager working for him to help manage and clean his rental cottages on our family farm along the shores of Lake Willoughby in Vermont’s remote Northeast Kingdom. The five-mile-long lake was formed when a glacier bore down from the North, cutting a deep trough in the land and splitting one big mountain in two—Mt. Pisgah and Mt. Hor—with steep rock cliffs that slope down to the deep lake waters. The family’s rental cottages, all painted red with white trim, lined a sandy beach and hugged the banks of a brook that flowed from Westmore mountain.

Even then, in the 1970s, Gramp had a commanding presence.

Though bent with age, he was still tall at six foot two, and was quite comfortable giving orders and seeing that they were obeyed without question. He was usually dressed head to toe in khaki, including a cap, and would fix me with his clear eyes and tell me to do this (empty buckets of sewage out of a septic well) or that (rake the beach). Or the Sisyphean task of cleaning the cottages in-between rentals using an upright vacuum that had terrible suction. “You missed a spot!”

I can picture him now vividly as he kicked back at the end of a long day, drinking a Miller High Life in the yard behind the Farmhouse. “Teddy,” he’d say, “there’s no substitute for hard work.”

Gramp lived into his mid-eighties, always active and full of life. He sang hymns in Church, delighting everyone with his vibrant baritone voice. Often down at the beach he’d break into yet another chorus of his favorite song, The Foggy Foggy Dew.

Why does the fact that Gramp survived two wars and lived a long life matter? Why did it matter to him, and—for the purposes of this story—why did it matter to me, my brothers and cousins? Just as important, why did his very nature as a grandfather matter to us, complete with his many tales of adventure and shared wisdom?

It turns out it matters a lot. Not just in the case of my Gramp, but for all grandpas and our loved ones here in America and around the world. The reasons are rooted in the history of humanity itself.

Early humans lived lives that Thomas Hobbes best described as “Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Fossil records indicate that our very earliest ancestors 30,000 years ago lived to about the age of 30. Which meant very few lived long enough to become grandparents. Scientists aren’t sure why Upper Paleolithic Europeans started to live longer into relatively old age, but they surmise that the changes brought about by this longevity had a profound impact on evolution.

When more grandparents came on the scene, things started to change for the better.

“Grandparents,” an article in Scientific American informs us, “contribute economic and social resources to their descendants, increasing both the number of offspring their children can have and the survivorship of their grandchildren.” In other words, having grandpa and grandma hanging out in the cave meant they were there to help raise the kids and dole out essential knowledge. Grandparents could teach, from experience, how to plant seeds to get the best crops. Or a thousand other things that helped the family survive and thrive.

Gramp’s habit of telling stories ladled with wisdom is likely a key reason why several of my four older brothers survived into adulthood.

Here’s one story out of many that shows how Gramp made a difference.

It was Easter, 1969, a lovely spring day in Lexington, Massachusetts, when my family—mom, dad and brothers—loaded into the station wagon and headed over to my grandparents’ house across town for the traditional late afternoon feast of ham, potatoes, peas, pies and handfuls of chocolate Easter eggs.

I was 10 at the time, while my eldest brother, Calvin, was twenty-one, and Charlie, nineteen. Both draft age for Vietnam. Photos taken that day seem inked in pastel hues, all of us in jackets and ties, young and pink-faced.

The war was not far away. Every night we watched Walter Cronkite on the evening news and there was always a tally of the men who had died in Vietnam. My parents were very much against the war and were not shy about saying so. Dad was no stranger to war, having been divebombed by kamikazes at the battle of Okinawa. He often said war was the stupidest thing he’d ever seen, and Vietnam only confirmed his beliefs. He did his part to serve his country but suffered lifelong PTSD. I once witnessed my mom give him food in a red dish, and when he saw the color red he clenched his teeth and screamed, “Blood!”

Having seen dad’s post-war stress up close, Calvin and Charlie were nervous about the draft; there was a lot of nail biting going on.

Calvin was still a bit on the fence, though, about whether he’d go to Vietnam if his draft number came up. He’d been in ROTC and was better prepared than most of his peers to fight. Both my parents hated Richard Nixon. My Gramp and Gram, however, were lifelong Republicans through and through. Even if Nixon wasn’t perfect, they would always support whoever led the Grand Old Party.

After we’d gorged ourselves on Gram’s multi-course dinner, we retired to the living room. Somehow the topic of Vietnam came up. My grandparents never said a word about Vietnam, which is why what Gramp said that day was so astonishing.

Gramp held court in his chair, center stage, while we young men sat nearby in respectful silence. “Well, boys,” Gramp said, “when I went to war the first time, in World War I, they told us it was the war to end all wars. Then came World War II don’t you know, and we had to go back and fight another one. Then there was Korea. And now there’s Vietnam.”

Here Gramp gestured one long hand in the air for emphasis, “All I can tell you is, it’s always the old men who start wars, and it’s the young men who are sent off to fight them.”

None of us said a word in response, but heads nodded. We knew exactly what Gramp’s opinion of Vietnam was without him ever having to be explicit or betray his Republican principles. None of my brothers chose to fight in Vietnam.

Only a man who’d flown above the trenches in France, then returned to Europe to fight again not too long after, and only a man who loved his grandsons more than anything, had the moral credence, love and wisdom required to tell us what he did. My brothers and I lived on to have children and grandchildren of our own.

What are lessons that I and other grandparents can impart to help nourish the next great generation? What role does wisdom play in survival and happiness?

In future posts, I’ll offer up some ideas. Not only mine, but gems of wisdom I’ve heard from other grandparents. If you have suggestions or would like to write a guest post, drop me a line at

Gramp in WWI

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Grandparenting Advice from the Boat Lady

In the process of hunting for ways to navigate grandfatherhood, I sought out the advice of my oldest living relative, Aunt Lois, my late mother’s sister. Lois was 95 at…

In the process of hunting for ways to navigate grandfatherhood, I sought out the advice of my oldest living relative, Aunt Lois, my late mother’s sister.

Lois was 95 at the time, frail but sharp as a tack. In her long career Lois was a much-loved music teacher and an accomplished cellist. During WWII she became a pilot to help ferry mail across the United States.

Lois delivering mail in WWII


Like my mom, Lois had a sharp, acerbic wit. She and my mom would go for daily dunks in Lake Willoughby wearing matching bathing caps festooned with brightly colored rubber flowers. They’d chat while treading water.

The other thing Lois and my mom had in common was a deep love for their grandchildren. The grandpas I knew loved their grandkids just as much as the grandmas, but it was the grandmas who actually said so. Grandpas showed their love in other ways, like telling stories or simply working with us.

Lois had 6 grandchildren and, thanks to her longevity, lived to enjoy her 5 great-grandchildren as well. Surely, I thought, Lois could speak volumes about how I could be a good grandpa.

I caught up with Lois one day down at the Willoughby beach after her daily dunk, years after my mom had passed. Lois at 95 was like a dry vine that had been bundled into a ball, arms and legs spindly, jaggy fingers twisted in odd directions by arthritis. She could walk with a cane or with a loved one holding her arm, guiding her ship to dock with a thunk into the nearest chair. On the day I quizzed her, she was bundled in a sweater in the late August cool. She wore fabulous pink Jackie Onassis-style big-framed sunglasses.

“Lois, any advice on how I can be a good grandpa?” I asked.

Lois looked thoughtful for a moment, staring out at the lake and the waves swooshing onto the shore. Then she raised one bony finger and pronounced, “Be there for them.”

I waited for her to continue. I figured her statement was merely a preamble to a longer, more eloquent oration. But no, that was it. And the more I thought about it, the more I knew she was right. If she had spoken for a whole day, or a year, she could not have imparted better advice. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was a brief 272 words, yet positively verbose by Lois’ standards. Great ideas are a lot like acorns. All the DNA of the tree is there and highly compact. When planted and nourished, the acorn thrives into a massive multi-branched oak tree.

In the case of what Lois had told me, that tree had sprawling branches that hugged and protected all those she loved most.

Lois lived those words. Even up until the last year of her long life, when any movement at all caused her pain, she’d be there for us and her many grand and great grandchildren in myriad ways. Every year on the 4th of July, Lois was the “boat lady” for our annual celebrations at the beach. Around dusk the wind would die down and leave the lake flat as a mirror, and in its reflection the wild roses of dusk bloomed as the sun slowly set. We’d light the bonfire as the whole family gathered around, talking and laughing, and Lois would sit at the picnic table and teach the bustling kids how to fold newspapers into paper boats.

Just as the sun was leaving the sky and the stars began to peek out, adults helped the kids put a match to their boats and launch them onto the water; the shimmering flames of a dozen ships floated slowly out onto the lake, the kids cheering theirs on; the winner would be the last boat still burning.

In her younger days, Lois would stand on the dock and play taps on her bugle. At 95, she sat in her chair and sang along with us around the bonfire, withered with time but still a young mother inside.

Last year Lois passed away quietly in bed. The night before she died, she excitedly told my cousins that she had a busy day ahead of her. She was going to see Ray (her late husband), her sister, mother and father. There was so much to look forward to.

This summer and for all summers to come, the paper boats will still flame and glitter along the shores of the lake at dusk. There’s some of Lois in every fold of those boats, and in every squeal of excitement as the kids set their boats aflame and watch them float and sputter.

It makes me very happy to know that Lois provided me with the best possible advice, and to realize—through my discussions with dozens of grandparents—that there are as many ways to be there for grandkids as there are leaves in a forest.

In my own grandpa life, I’ve found that being there for them can be a chance to teach lessons that will last a lifetime.

I’ve fine-tuned the art of the pillow fight by applying just the right amount of power to each swing of the pillow; enough to score a definitive cushy punch yet still harmless.

There are also opportunities for learning.  On a recent weekend morning, my grandkids decided to make a lemonade stand and make enough money to help pay for a video game (their elusive Holy Grail). When they brought it up, I said, “Ok, that’s a great idea. But you should also take into account your cost of goods so you can determine how much profit you’ll make per cup of lemonade sold.”

Their reply: “What?”

This led to a robust discussion, complete with a math exercise, that delved into the cost of the lemonade mix and plastic cups, how much they would charge per cup, and how much they’d ultimately make in profit after subtracting their cost of goods. Over the course of a day they raked in a sizable amount of money at a decent profit.

The lemonade stand, staffed by future entrepreneurs.

My son-in-law added a wonderful touch: half the proceeds will be donated to the local fire department.

From my grandkids’ perspective, this was all magic. It felt to them like pulling money out of thin air. Instead of begging their parents to buy them a video game, they showed entrepreneurial spirit and took control of their finances. And they’re not even 10 years old yet.

Being there for the grandkids helps shape them into who they can become in the future, the best version of themselves. They might be making paper boats today, and building real boats in adulthood, or founding a new beverage company. And hopefully giving a percentage of their profits to charity. What a wonderful life lesson for them. And a total blast for us.

When I talk about nurturing the next great generation, this is what I mean. If we can help raise a generation of young people who know how to found and run profitable businesses—and give proceeds to charitable causes—we can change the world.

But let’s not forget the pillow fights. My grandkids are getting bigger by the week and our battles are becoming truly epic. I will show no mercy.

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I asked an AI chatbot to write about being a grandfather. Oh my God.

There’s a lot of buzz about Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days, with advances happening much faster than we mere humans can control. Even leaders in the AI sector are going…

There’s a lot of buzz about Artificial Intelligence (AI) these days, with advances happening much faster than we mere humans can control. Even leaders in the AI sector are going before Congress to urge regulation before things get out of hand.

Based on what I saw this morning, things are already out of hand.

I checked out Bard, from the geniuses at Google. Technically Bard is a conversational generative artificial intelligence chatbot. But Google calls it, and I quote, “Your creative and helpful collaborator to supercharge your imagination, boost productivity, and bring ideas to life.” Ok, I thought, I’m game. Over breakfast, I visited Bard and asked it to write me a blog post about being a grandfather. I wanted to see what a machine would come up with. In 2 seconds it shared the following insights:

“Being a Grandfather: The Best Job in the World
Being a grandfather is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. It’s a chance to relive your own childhood through the eyes of your grandchildren, and to pass on your love, wisdom, and experience to the next generation.
There are so many things that make being a grandfather great. You get to spoil your grandchildren rotten without having to worry about the consequences. You can take them on adventures, teach them new things, and just generally have a lot of fun.
But being a grandfather is more than just fun. It’s also a great responsibility. You have the opportunity to make a real difference in your grandchildren’s lives. You can help them to learn and grow, and to become the best people they can be.If you’re lucky enough to be a grandfather, cherish the experience. It’s a gift that you’ll never forget.
Here are some of the best things about being a grandfather:
• You get to see the world through new eyes. When you’re a parent, you’re often too busy to really appreciate the wonder of childhood. But as a grandfather, you have the time to slow down and enjoy every moment.
• You get to be a kid again. There’s nothing quite like playing with your grandchildren and getting to relive your own childhood. It’s a chance to let loose and have some fun.
• You get to pass on your wisdom and experience. As a grandfather, you have the opportunity to share your knowledge and life lessons with your grandchildren. This is a valuable gift that they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
• You get to create lasting memories. The time you spend with your grandchildren will create lasting memories that you will both cherish forever.

If you’re thinking about becoming a grandfather, I encourage you to go for it. It’s an amazing experience that you will never regret.

Here are some tips for being a great grandfather:
• Be present. When you’re with your grandchildren, be fully present and engaged. Put away your phone and other distractions and focus on them.
• Be patient. Grandchildren can be a handful, so it’s important to be patient with them. Remember, they’re still learning and growing.
• Be loving. Show your grandchildren how much you love them. Tell them, hug them, and play with them.
• Be a role model. Be the kind of person you want your grandchildren to be. Show them what it means to be kind, compassionate, and responsible.
Being a grandfather is a wonderful privilege. Cherish the time you have with your grandchildren and make the most of it.”

In 1950, a British cybernetics pioneer named Alan Turing developed what he called The Imitation Game, known today as the Turing Test.

The test was designed to determine a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, we humans. The Turing Test is more relevant today than ever as AI chatbots proliferate. How can we tell if an AI program is writing or speaking, or if it’s a real person?

Bard failed the Turing Test in glaring and hilarious fashion with this sentence: “If you’re thinking about becoming a grandfather, I encourage you to go for it.”

From Bard’s perspective, we have complete control over when we’re going to become grandparents, like it’s deciding if we’re joining a gym or taking up knitting. Running with this idea, here’s an imaginary father/daughter conversation.

A phone rings. A young lady answers.

“Hi dad!”
“Hi, honey, how are you and Peter doing?”
“Good, good. Busy. How are you and mom?”
“We’re great. Planning a trip to Albuquerque
in the spring.”
“Oh, and one other thing. I’ve decided to become a grandfather!”
Pause. Silence.
“I see, well, that would be wonderful someday.”
“I’m thinking now, actually.
“Hold on, dad. Peter and I aren’t ready.”
“Honey, you’ve been married for five years and it’s time to start procreating. Mom and I aren’t getting any younger.”
“But Peter and I need more time to travel, see the world, just enjoy each other before we have kids.”
“Well, Bard told me that being a grandfather is a wonderful privilege. I should cherish the time I have with my grandchildren and make the most of it, but I can’t do that until I actually have a grandchild, so that’s where you come in.”
“Who the hell is Bard?”
“Watch your language, young lady! Let’s shoot for ten months for grandkid #1. Talk it over with Peter and if you need another month or two I can be flexible.”

It’s a sure thing that Bard’s AI capabilities will improve, but based on its automatic notions of total control I can only hope that future iterations will never be given access to the nuclear launch codes.

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Wrinkles. The Maps of Life.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more people who’ve “had work done” on their faces. I genuinely hate the results of most plastic surgery; many people look like…

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more people who’ve “had work done” on their faces.

I genuinely hate the results of most plastic surgery; many people look like they’ve stuck their head out the window of a speeding car, the wind pushing back their skin into a perpetual grimace. They don’t look younger at all. I would pay a surgeon to NOT look like that, and the fact that so many people fork over thousands in a desperate attempt to recapture their youth is sad.

My sixty-three-year-old wife is beautiful, wrinkles and all. I have wrinkles, too. We earned them.

All those times we juggled work and daycare for the kids? There are facial lines for that.

The time my son came down with meningitis and I rushed him to the hospital for tests? It took a doctor and two nurses to hold him down while they inserted a needle into his spine to extract fluid for testing. He screamed. Afterwards, they gave him a drug to erase his memory of the experience, but there was no such drug given to me. I picked up a few wrinkles that day.

When my eldest grandson was having trouble breathing due to a bad case of RSV, the lines on my face deepened.

We prayed for him to get better, and he did. I’m keeping the resulting wrinkles to remind myself, every time I look in the mirror, that prayer matters.

I’ve had surgery on my thyroid, left foot, and several hernias. The stitches healed, but the stress added a lot more lines.

There have been many good times as well, now etched on our faces. Like all the days in the sun at Willoughby Lake in Vermont swimming with our grandkids. I can trace the lines around my mouth formed by smiling (and yes, sun damage. I should have put on more sunscreen).

Our faces are a map of our lives, each line a bend in the road marked by joy or sadness. We own them and nobody will take them away, least of all a surgeon paid to stretch them into oblivion.

Call me sentimental or old fashioned. You can even call me just plain old. There’s no point trying to be something I’m not.

In fact, I find it liberating to accept my age and all that comes with it. And the money I’m saving from avoiding plastic surgery? I’m going to buy a swing set for the grandkids.

That said, I’m not in a position to judge others, no matter what extent they go to update their faces.

Madonna recently took a lot of heat for her extensive surgery. She’s an amazing legend and what she did was her personal decision. More power to her. There are also many people who have minor work done, like the occasional Botox treatment. There is no right or wrong here.

All I’m trying to say is that the wrinkles that come with time should be accepted and even celebrated.   What do you think?

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