Roach: Bright Eyes

The whole family was on edge as the day became evening, became night.
Baby crib with pillows and stuffed animals inside
Photo by Getty Images

The whole family was on edge as the day became evening, became night.

And still no word.

Son-in-law Bryan had been diligent in keeping us posted via texts, but then he went dark for hours.

We knew something was up.

Wife Diane and I went to bed at 10 p.m. Sure enough, the call came at 10:30 p.m. It was a family FaceTime from daughter Maggie. Daughter Katie popped on, then son JT and his fiancée appeared on camera from Los Angeles. We held our collective breath.

“I am very tired and hardly know what I am saying,” Maggie began. She had been in labor on and off for more than three days. To make matters more interesting, Bryan and Mags had gone old school. No gender reveal. No names declared. It had been a nine-month drumroll for the family.

Given the arduous labor, Diane assumed Maggie was calling to tell us she was having a C-section. Then Maggie, in remarkable cinematic fashion, continued: “We just called to introduce you to Rose Kathleen. Six pounds, 10 ounces.”

And then Maggie smoothly panned her phone to show a happy Bryan holding an impossibly small human. Our first grandchild and the next generation of our clan.

And so began grandfatherhood.

For years, my contemporaries have extolled the joys of being a grandparent. I’d nod and smile, but it was never an obsession. Now I am one.

Sure, there has been the gush of family emotion, mixed with happiness for the new mom and dad. But what has surprised me most is the unforeseen ability to observe the development of our new family member, free from the fatigue and anxiety that clouded my own experience as a young dad 35 years ago. It is amazing what you observe and appreciate about a new human when you’ve had eight hours of sleep. How vulnerable a newborn really is. How quickly they begin to open their eyes to observe and absorb. How ridiculously fast they grow.

A first grandchild reminds you once again of how miraculous women are with their ability to create life, while men remain the blunt objects we have always been. You are reminded of the sheer chaos a child introduces into a young marriage. Maggie and Bryan are both successful professionals, but it didn’t take them long to realize that young Rose cares not a whit about spreadsheets.

It has also been interesting to see what modern tools are available to young parents. There are apps that track a baby’s sleep, nursing and diaper patterns. There are complicated but versatile strollers. And bassinets with artificial intelligence that perceive and respond to a child’s fussiness with sounds and motion, thus allowing young parents that precious extra hour of sleep.

As I hold Rose, I ponder a grandfather strategy. First, I will adopt my own father’s tactic and keep a candy drawer in my desk loaded with Tootsie Pops, jelly beans and Skittles, thus exercising a grandfather’s power to veto any health codes imposed by parents. I have absolutely no qualms about using sugar to gain Rose’s attention and affection.

I will also do my best to teach my granddaughter about books and music. And how to fish, for there is nothing more fun than a child’s squeal when a bluegill is on the line. The beauty of words, melodies and the natural world are the most important things I can bequeath Rose, far more valuable than any pittance of an inheritance she might receive.

I will tell her colorful tales of the family members that came before her birth who are now gone, those she will never meet but are out there somewhere, somehow, celebrating her arrival with us now.

As I gaze into Rose’s bright, curious eyes, a stunning actuarial reality dawns on me. If all goes well, I am holding a being who will see the year 2100. The next century.

And then it strikes me that the most astounding gift will not be what I teach her. But what she will teach me.

John Roach, a Madison-based screenwriter and producer, writes this column monthly. Reach him at