Nurturing the Next Great Generation

Tag: granddad

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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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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Dear 26-Year-Old Us

Last week my wife was cleaning out an old cabinet and came across a photo taken of us on our honeymoon in London in 1985. I’d always liked this picture…

Last week my wife was cleaning out an old cabinet and came across a photo taken of us on our honeymoon in London in 1985. I’d always liked this picture and thought it had been lost, so seeing it again was a bit like finding ourselves the way we were back then. But not so long ago, really, in terms of years.

The span of time is more accurately measured in the changes we’ve been through; raising two children and all the blurred rush that entailed; and most recently, the addition of 4 gregarious and beautiful grandchildren. It wasn’t always easy getting to the present. This made me wish I could reach out to the two of us as we were at 26 and offer some sage advice.

So, here is my letter to the younger us:

Dear Ted and Nancy…

First off, I’d have to say the two of you look great. Nancy, the combination of the long wavy hair and lovely features makes you stunning. Ted, I know that you are insecure about your looks and have never felt 100% comfortable in your skin. Stop worrying.

I want you both to know that you are just at the very beginning of an amazing journey together. It’s going to happen very quickly. Nancy, you may already be pregnant, and a little girl named Abigail will join us in 9 months. And within three years we will have a son, Nicholas, who will complete the picture.

Your early years as a family will sometimes be rocky to say the least.

There will a lot of juggling of work and daycare, which will be made harder by the fact that both your kids will be sick A LOT. Not life-threatening sick, but one cold or stomach bug after the other. You will argue about which of you will stay home to care for the kids when they have a fever. You will strike bargains with each other (like, I’ll stay home today if you let me sleep late on Saturday). You will work it out time and again, and the kids will grow up to be well-balanced and charming people.

When times are tough, and when they are great, try to pause and take stock of where you are and the extraordinary gifts before you. All of it will go by so fast that when you’re older you’ll shake your head in wonder.

I’d love to go back to one of those bad days and give you a hug.

I’d tell you that it’s all going to be ok. That’s not some platitude; it’s the truth.

I wish I could help you pause time once in a while. After you’ve read to the kids in bed and they at last fall asleep, don’t rush out of the room. Take a moment to look at your slumbering Abigail and Nicholas. Experience deeply the sense of peace. Listen to the sound of their breath. Realize that these seconds are incredibly precious and transitory. Someday—despite all the vomit you have to clean up on a regular basis, the tears to soothe, and all the other troubles—you will wish you could be right back here in this moment.

Here’s some advice about your relationship.

It would be nice if you had more regular dates. Find a sitter and go out to dinner at least twice a month. You don’t have to go to a gourmet restaurant. Maybe just have coffee. Take a few minutes to talk. You’ll be the best possible parents if you nurture your relationship to the fullest.

When the kids leave for college and you are alone in your newly empty nest, it’s ok to feel very sad.

Go ahead and bawl your eyes out. So much of your purpose has been centered on raising your girl and boy. The fact that they are now grown up and strong is a sign you did a great job.

This may shock you, but it actually won’t be very long before your kids have kids. Honestly, it will feel like you blinked and suddenly there will be a bunch of grandchildren to hug and read to and make cookies with.The empty nest will be full again before you know it.

Lastly, I’d suggest you extend your honeymoon by at least a few weeks.

Drive not only through the British midlands and Wales, but also to Scotland. Go to the northernmost castle on the coast and feel the wind in your hair (especially you, Ted, because you’re going to lose it by your 40s). A wonderfully rich and busy life with children and grandchildren is before you, but there’s no need to rush ahead. Not today. Slow down and enjoy the view, and each other.

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