Nurturing the Next Great Generation

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Heirlooms of Wisdom

When is something passed down from our ancestors more than just an antique? Can an idea be an heirloom? These questions come to mind because I’m writing this story on…

When is something passed down from our ancestors more than just an antique? Can an idea be an heirloom?

These questions come to mind because I’m writing this story on the desk that belonged to my great-grandfather. When my father inherited it, he used it as his personal desk at home in his “inner sanctum,” an office on the top floor of our house outside Boston, the place where he did his deepest thinking.

As a kid I would sometimes sit at this desk and look at the note cards dad had pinned on the wall. He’d created a compendium of wisdom gleaned from his voracious reading, one profound statement per card written in his neat all-capital lettering. The idea that stayed in my mind is a quote from George Washington Carver, the most prominent African-American scientist of the early 20th century. “Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough.”

I love this desk. I love it so much it has given up its greatest secrets, which I will share with you.

This matte black 19th century antique is solid as an icebreaker, with drawers painted inside in the particular red of British phone booths. Its lines are simple and angular, unadorned by flourishes. This is a desk for work.

Its family origins date back to the Civil War. My great-great grandfather, Albert Kidder Page, served with a Massachusetts regiment. In July of 1863—the same month as the epic battle at Gettysburg—Albert was fighting his way through North Carolina when he contracted a severe case of malaria. When Albert’s father, Luke, learned that his son was extremely ill, he traveled by train from Boston to retrieve him from the army hospital and bring him home. Albert’s wife, Maria, was nine months pregnant. No doubt the family held out hope that Albert would recover and live to see his child born. But it was not to be. On July 3rd, Albert passed away in Maria’s arms. Three days later, she gave birth to their son. She named him Albert Kidder Page (curiously, he was not a ‘jr’).

Albert grew up, studied hard, and became a doctor. The desk was his.

Boston, at the time, was a destination for Chinese immigrants and Albert would accept them as patients regardless of their ability to pay. He often received china in lieu of money. I’m guessing Dr. Page was right-handed because there’s a small spot on the top right of the desk where the paint is worn away due to repeated pressure from a writing instrument — his hand filling out prescriptions for all those in need of care.

The china Dr. Page received from patients is still in the family, its value not measured in dollars.

Nearly one hundred years after the Civil War, when the desk was in my dad’s office, he flew to California to attend a scientific conference. On his trip back to Boston, on June 30th, 1956, an unknown woman approached him at the ticket counter at LAX and said, “Excuse me, I was wondering if you’re on the earlier flight. It’s urgent that I get home to my family faster and I was hoping you’d consider switching flights with me.” My dad was unfailingly kind and considerate of others, and he never seemed to be in a hurry, so it’s no surprise to me that he agreed. She took his seat on the earlier TWA flight.

That plane collided with another over the Grand Canyon. All lives were lost. It was the worse civil air disaster that had ever occurred in the United States.

My dad arrived home safely and went back to work, continuing to read voraciously and write down new nuggets of wisdom to pin on the wall, including a new one: Life is a gift. Whenever my dad told the story of the switched flights, he’d finish by saying, “And the moral of the story is, if someone asks you for a favor, do it!”

I was born three years later.

The only reason I’m here, the reason why I’ve been able to live, to raise children, to know my grandkids and to write stories on this old desk, is because of pure chance, and kindness. The gift of life that a total stranger gave my father—and by extension to me—must be somehow repaid (I did try to track down the identity of the woman who switched seats so I could contact her surviving family members, but it was not possible).

Life went on. The desk was put to good use by my dad over the following decades, with countless letters written, scientific papers perused and annotated, wisdom captured.

An underlying current of all my dad’s thinking was the need to promote world peace.

Having lived through the horrors of Okinawa, he believed all war was incredibly stupid. We could do better. The imperative for peace was infused into our family life in myriad ways, such as hosting exchange students. Building bridges of understanding with people from many countries would, in his view, create a more loving family of mankind.

This is how a young student from Kenya came to live with us in the mid-1960s. His name was James Odhiambo.

While James spent time with us five boys—expanding our world view in the process—it was really my dad that he bonded with. The full extent of that bond didn’t become fully clear until recently. A month ago, one of my brothers discovered a letter written to my father from James’ wife in 1983. In my mind’s eye, I picture dad opening the letter as he sat at this desk. Below is verbatim what she wrote:

Mrs. Dinah Odhiambo
P.O. Box 30101
Nairobi, Kenya

Dear Mr. Page,

It is a really long time since you read from us and also read from you. I remember, the last time was, I sent you our family photo, you never mentioned whether it reached you or not.

I thank God who has given me this chance to remember you. The [?] had come because of ups and downs, and thereafter, to give you a surprising news, I got my fifth baby. This one came after 7 years and I had not planned. God gave me a baby boy and my husband named him you, thus William-Page Odiwuor. Odiwuor means from midnight up to 3am and my baby arrived at 12:45am at night on 28-2-83. So, this means my husband together with me have not forgotten you.

I have been troubled every now and then that I have you in our family, but I have never let you know. I don’t know how you will take it but my husband insisted we must name you in our family, and I think that is why I got this one after many years.

I’m sure your wife is doing well together with the rest of the family. Please pass my warmest regards to all and may God bless you.

Dinah Odhiambo

Later in the 80s we heard that James had died of AIDS.

My dad likely sat here when he wrote a check to help pay for William-Page Odiwuor’s college education. Since my dad was, like his grandfather, right-handed, the scratched paint on the desk was partly due to the tip of his pen bearing down as he wrote the check for young William, as dad did for so many other people and the causes he cared about.

So, here I am today, writing here at this old desk. It’s the nature of the publishing business that books are sold, not given away. But it’s not possible for me to write this and not think of those who wrote here before me. The prescriptions. The wisdom. The checks. Every fiber of this wood is imbued with the kindness of my ancestors and the gifts of strangers. I feel their presence as I sit here and type. To honor them, and simply to do the right thing, when my book is published a donation will be made to a non-profit that benefits children across the globe.

I’m fortunate to know the secrets of this desk, passed down to me by spoken word and a letter found by chance. Through this book, the stories will be available to my children, my grandchildren, and hopefully everyone else. Heirlooms are nice things to receive. They are even better to give.

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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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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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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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The Nearly Indescribable Joy and Sadness of Seeing Them Grow Up

Peter Pan protested that he would not grow up. In the island of Neverland, he and Wendy could live a never-ending adventure filled with pirates, fairies and crocodiles, and they…

Peter Pan protested that he would not grow up. In the island of Neverland, he and Wendy could live a never-ending adventure filled with pirates, fairies and crocodiles, and they could fly.

As a grandfather, I’ve rediscovered my inner boy, that eternal Peter Pan that never really left me but was hidden from my vision for a while. I become Peter again when I’m building a cave out of couch cushions with my grandkids. Venomous snakes hunt across the jungle floor (the living room) in search of prey. A pterodactyl (me) swoops down and darkens the sky, talons reaching towards the mouth of the cave as the helpless little ones scream with laughter.

Childhood is indeed a magical place, but as parents and grandparents we know all too well that it doesn’t last forever.

When I was very little, I remember my dad would hold me up and rub my face against the stubble of his early morning beard, the sandpaper-like feel of it making me giggle. Then one day when I was older, he picked me up and was about to do what he’d always done, but I stopped him and said, “I don’t like that anymore.” He looked very sad. At the time I didn’t understand why.

But I do now.

As a grandpa, I’m experiencing time with a sense of increasing acceleration.

My eldest grandson is now 9, and the time between when I held that baby boy and the long-limbed seemingly pre-teen he is today, the one who is able to tackle me to the floor quite effectively, passed in the blink of a crocodile’s eye. And with this rapid passage of time I’ve become more aware than ever of the little changes I see in my grandkids, the moments I see them emerging from Neverland, sometimes in small steps, other times in giant leaps.

There’s great joy in seeing them progress upward in life (and all of them very tall, like me). Yet I feel an almost indescribable sadness when I see them leaving their own childhoods behind. A sadness that the magic I have witnessed—and rediscovered—is fleeting.

It’s one thing to experience this as a parent. As a grandpa, the emotions are all the more poignant because I know this is my last rodeo.

Each step that I see them take into adulthood has an air of personal finality for me because I know I will only see this once. And may not live long enough to see them have children of their own. This is it.

I recently had one of these joy/sadness moments on a Sunday morning. My son came over with his two girls to hang out and eat too many bagels, one of our favorite weekend activities.

Like most grandparents, my wife I read a lot to our grandkids. Whether it’s Goodnight Moon, or searching once again for the elusive rainbow elephant, we’re always reaching for another book. No matter what’s going on, or which grandchild is with us, we’ll ask if they’d like to read a book, and another, and another.

On this particular Sunday, I was in the living room with our youngest granddaughter, not yet 2 years old. She’s a very bright girl, cute and always fearlessly active (rock walls? Yes!) and highly focused on building Magna-Tile structures or whatever toy is before her. I was sitting in my leather chair, enjoying watching her bustle about. The sun was shining through multiple windows, filling the room with a bright, warm feeling. She was snapping Legos together, quietly figuring out what pieces would fit.

Then she looked up at me with her big brown eyes, picked up a book and held it toward me, and asked, “Would you like to read a book?”

I was startled. This very young girl, still in diapers and barely beyond infancy, had just formed a complete sentence, and the look on her face was suddenly so grown-up, so girl versus baby, that the joy/sadness of the moment struck me with full force. The part of me that was in the room then, fully present with my granddaughter, replied, “Yes, I would love to read a book.”

The other part of me, this boy inside who never, ever wanted to grow up, was flying with Wendy hand in hand through the night sky, the wind in my hair, heading home.

Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.

My wife, Nancy, reading to our grand girls.

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Babysitting the grandsons. Is this my best job ever?

When my kids were little, it seemed like my wife and I were constantly and frantically juggling daycare and illness. There’s no pleasant way to put this, but let’s just…

When my kids were little, it seemed like my wife and I were constantly and frantically juggling daycare and illness.

There’s no pleasant way to put this, but let’s just say there was a lot of vomit involved. This was of course in the 1980s, when the concept of “remote work” was a euphemism for simply not working. So we got very good at making bargains with each other.

“If you stay home him with him today, I’ll stay home tomorrow.”


“If you stay home with her, you can sleep late on Saturday.”

Flash forward to this year when our daughter, the mother of our two grandsons (8 and 6), called to let us know her nanny had given two weeks’ notice.

Our daughter had interviews lined up with a few nanny options, but nobody great had taken the position yet. A few weeks after that, with no nanny on board, we grandparents kicked into gear to help.

First, my son-in-law’s parents stayed with them for a week, dropping the kids off for the morning school bus, picking them up in the afternoon, taking them to lessons, sports practices, and on and on.

Then it was our turn. My wife and I packed up our laptops and headed off, picking up where the other grandparents had left off, kind of like a marathon race with senior citizens running and passing off the baton, except the baton was lunch boxes and backpacks or the bag for swim practice or soccer shin guards or, wait, there was something else, oh forget it the school bus is coming!

In short, the mad dash of our child rearing years comes back full bore, quickly morphing out of memory to a very present and urgent reality.

And here’s the thing: I loved every minute of it. One day one our youngest grandson couldn’t go to school because of a lingering cough. I let me clients know I was going to be in meetings all day and not available for calls. This was true, but I omitted the fact that my meetings were with my grandson.

We visited a graveyard nearby my daughter’s house and played the game of finding the oldest date etched in stone.

Then we went for a long walk by the ocean on a treelined road, the fall leaves showing red and yellow and orange, the sun bright.

I took him to Shake Shack for lunch and we kept talking over hotdogs and burgers.


When we got back to the house, my grandson wrote with invisible ink in his diary, played with dinosaurs, and watched My Little Pony.

Out of all the packed days I’ve had at work over the past 30 years, this was one of my most productive and enjoyable. I’m confident that if I live to be 99, chances are I won’t look back on that day and wish I’d spent it making more money.

It turns out there’s evidence that babysitting grandchildren, at least periodically babysitting them versus full time, has been shown to help grandparents live longer. The researchers don’t know why that’s the case, but the data backs it up.

I have my own theory and it’s pretty simple: Helping our kids with the grandkids renews our sense of purpose.

We like knowing that we’re needed and loved. Just as important, being with our grandkids—even if they have hacking coughs—is a recipe for joy. And joy is a very healthy thing, not just for us grandparents but for everyone.

The next day, my grandson was feeling much better and went off to school with his older brother. My wife and I waved to them as the school bus drove off, then we want back to our other jobs.

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Fostering the Best Future for our Daughters & Granddaughters

In Walter Isaacson’s wonderful book, The Code Breaker, he describes the life and work of Jennifer Doudna, a scientist credited with the creation of CRISPR gene editing technology. If you…

In Walter Isaacson’s wonderful book, The Code Breaker, he describes the life and work of Jennifer Doudna, a scientist credited with the creation of CRISPR gene editing technology.

If you or a loved one benefited from the COVID vaccine developed at astonishing speed, you can thank Jennifer. CRISPR allowed scientists to rapidly edit the RNA used in the vaccine, and millions of lives were saved in the process.

What really struck me about Doudna’s story, however, was how this Nobel-winning scientist was strongly discouraged from pursuing a career in science. Her high school guidance counselor advised her that “science is for men.” Fortunately for Doudna—and all of us—she didn’t listen.

As a grandfather I think of Doudna when I see my daughter and granddaughters. As grandparents, how can we help them live in a world where nobody, ever, under any circumstances, tries to confine them within boundaries fabricated by men?

I grew up in a traditional male dominated household.

My dad, a chemical engineer and executive with Polaroid, walked in the door at 6:30 pm every weeknight with the expectation that mom would have dinner on the table for all the males: my dad, me and four older brothers. And she did. These days people would say she was a “stay at home mom.” In the 1960s that’s just the way it was.

To my mom, having four sons in a row was a blessing and a curse. She loved us all but really longed to have at least one girl in the family mix. Just one daughter to make dresses for, or perhaps commiserate with about the male-run world. After giving birth to my older brothers mom tried one last time to have a girl, but then I was born and those hopes were dashed. She gave up and bought a girl Labrador Retriever puppy and tied a pink ribbon around its neck. Her name was Holly (apparently this would have been my name if I’d been a girl). To get the full story of Holly and the puppies she would eventually give birth to, you can read my book, The Willoughby Chronicles.

You might wonder, how did a busy exec like my dad commuting home in heavy traffic from Cambridge, Massachusetts, manage to walk in exactly at 6:30 each night?

Because he always stopped at the library, then left there at 6:25 to get to our house on time for dinner. He could have arrived some days at 6 or earlier and helped out, but somehow that thought didn’t enter his mind.

My mom was a smart, creative woman. Her frustration with her lot grew as the 70s and the womens’ rights movement progressed. I often heard her say, wistfully, that she could have done something with her life. In truth, raising five of us—each one gigantic and constantly ravenous—was certainly the most demanding job in the Page household. There was no leisurely stopping off at the library for mom. The vats of baked ziti needed to be cooked for the boys. Or a million other thankless tasks completed.

She did stage some occasional token protests, like the time she complained that my dad didn’t always eat the food she had carefully prepared. “That really hurts my feelings,” she said.

Dad apologized and swore in the future he’d always eat her meals. A few days later she served him a sandwich made with cat food (Kal Kan, no less, a slimy odiferous mush). I’m not entirely sure he realized he was eating cat food. It’s possible. In any case he downed the whole sandwich and thanked her for it.

The present and future I want for my daughter and grand girls is one where all career choices are open, all pay is equal, and no high school guidance counselor will ever seek to enforce limits. If women choose to pursue lives where they are raising kids full time, then that direction must be fully respected as well. “Stay at home mom” should never be a pejorative expression.

So, how can we foster the best possible future? Perhaps it starts with how we play with the kids, because the path towards being something starts with imagining it.

We can have bright plastic kitchen play sets with dishes that both the girls and boys can play with. But have a bright plastic science lab right beside it. During playtime, we could ask a boy or girl if they want to make some pasta for dinner. And we can ask if they’d like to edit genes to invent a new vaccine to save humanity. Let them choose their play, just as they choose the future they will inhabit.

Jennifer Doudna was born with many gifts. She’s brilliant, but also lucky to have a forceful personality that helped her push back against her guidance counselor. Not every kid will have this. We have to work harder, wherever we can, to make career and life paths fully accessible to all.

What are ways you can think of to help our kids help their kids, the next great generation, become who they were meant to be? Post a comment to join the conversation.

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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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Rediscovering Halloween

When our two kids were little and we first took them out trick or treating, I recall sensing the ghosts of my own childhood Halloween memories bubbling up in the…

When our two kids were little and we first took them out trick or treating, I recall sensing the ghosts of my own childhood Halloween memories bubbling up in the witches’ cauldron of my mind. Carving pumpkins into grinning, candle-gleaming jack-o-lanterns. Navigating through spooky garlands of cobwebs to a neighbors door, shouts of “trick or treat!” and of course the pillow cases full of candy. But when our two kids grew up and went off to college, the magic of Halloween left as well.

At best we’d have a bowl of candy at the ready for the few kids who trekked to our far end of the street, or—when even less enthused—we’d leave the bowl on the steps. Sad!

That has changed.

Our four grandchildren have brought about the great rediscovering of Halloween. Like little bats swooping through the night, our grandchildren have dived into Halloween with total glee and brought us along for the ride.

This Halloween we tagged along with my son’s family. One granddaughter, age 3, was a bee, the 7-month-old a ladybug, and my son a beekeeper (complete with professional beekeeper’s hat and long leather gloves). For the bee, this was her first real Halloween experience, old enough to fully appreciate the three-headed Cerberus of costumes, candy and ghoulish decorations.

The night was cold but not freezing, and dark as only late October nights can feel after the brightness of summer has faded and knowing that winter is fast approaching.

Apparitions of fairies, Samurai warriors, vampires and Frankenstein monsters—and one parent in full Elvis Presley tight white leather with sequins garb repeating “Thank you very much”—appeared out of the dark, briefly illuminated by jittery flashlights.

Our grand girl bee buzzed up the steps of a house, apparently not scared by the bloody head of a monster in a bowl of Reese’s peanut butter cups, or a life-sized ghost wafting beneath a maple tree. We carried our youngest grand girl, our ladybug, who snuggled close and stared at all this with a look of wonder; she was at a loss for words, only partly because she didn’t know any yet.

After an hour the bee’s candy bag was filling up with M&Ms, Mars Bars, Three Musketeers, Charleston Chews, gummy bears, you name it. When I was a kid, I ate these treats by the bucket. As a grandpa, I avoided them. Devouring candy was not part of the diet plan and I imagined my yoga and swimming workouts of the previous week evaporating in a cloud of white sugar.

And then a curious thing happened.

We walked up to one of the last spooky houses we saw that evening, the bee rang the bell and shouted “trick or treat!” and a mom held out a basket of candy.

But not just any candy. They were Snickers. I took one.

Later that night, with unhurried deliberation, I unwrapped the fun-sized Snickers and ate it. This was no ordinary Snickers. Its caramel peanut chocolaty goodness was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten in my entire life. All my past Halloweens and the entire vast volume of candy I consumed as a child were condensed into that one little Snickers bar. In that moment, I grew bee wings of my own and rose off the ground, hovering, before slowly and with some reluctance returning to earth.

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