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,…
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.