Papa and the boys go looking for trains. | Javier Govea/Staff

I have a bone to pick with Lesley Stahl, the longtime TV journalist and 60 Minutes correspondent. In the February/March issue of AARP magazine, she wrote a lovely piece about becoming a grandmother, excerpted from her new book, Becoming Grandma. 

“Throughout my career,” she wrote, “I had worked at suppressing both my opinions and my emotions. … Then, wham! My first grandchild.”

The impact took her by surprise. 

“I felt I was growing a whole new chamber in my heart. I nearly swooned, staring at her like a lover. I’d never seen anything so delicate and beautiful, so sweet, every feature perfect. And it’s not that I didn’t see her three chins.

“I was at a time in my life where I’d assumed I had already had my best day, my tallest high. But now I was overwhelmed with euphoria. Why was she hitting with such a force? What explains this joy, this grandmother elation that is a new kind of love?”

Plenty of people had told her how great it would be to become a grandparent.

“But what I couldn’t get over was the physicality of my feelings,” she said. … “I was infatuated. Dare I say it? It felt like … ardor. Aha! There it was. We grandmas literally, actually, fall in love.”

I was with her all the way — until I read the short Q&A-style sidebar attached to the story, which posed the question, “How do grandmothers and grandfathers differ?”

“When I first held my grandchild, I felt a titanic jolt of emotion,” she replied. “Most of the grandmothers I interviewed had the same elated feeling. With grandfathers, not one of them said they had that first initial jolt. The real attachment comes a little later. But their emotions are very deep.”

I’m glad she acknowledged our deep emotions (albeit “a little later”), but her sample of grandfathers was obviously way too small.

I certainly felt that jolt. The boys were born eight weeks early and spent the first weeks of their lives in incubators. Bryce was 3.9 pounds, Tyler 3.1, the latter small enough to carry comfortably in my hand. 

“I learned there is no such thing as a ‘quick look’ at a preemie in an incubator,” I wrote after my initial encounter, “especially when they happen to be your first grandchildren.”

I expected to be pleased to make their acquaintance, but since we couldn’t hold them yet, I figured my first sight of them, probably from a distance, would be no big deal. But I found myself inches from Tyler on the other side of the glass, his tiny body wired up, his chest — impossibly it seemed — rising and falling.

It was, I wrote at the time, “better than watching the first moonwalk. Way better. Utterly engrossing. So fragile, so precious, so beautiful, so innocent, so peaceful, so pure. So alive.”

Suddenly I found myself falling down the same deep well shaft, head first into the mystery, that I experienced when I held my son for the first time three decades earlier.

A titanic jolt? The Titanic had nothing on this. The Germans have a word for authentic, unfiltered, undiluted experience. Echt. This was echt. It was echt-static.

In the three years since, the feeling hasn’t changed. I’ve had two great privileges in my life, being the stay-at-home parent with my son for three years (age 3-6) and babysitting regularly for the twins. 

Kristen brings them to Oak Park now once a week because she works here. The boys must think Oak Park Avenue is the mecca of vehicular traffic. Commuter buses, school buses, ambulances, firetrucks, police cars, garbage trucks, mail trucks, motorcycles, and no less than three kinds of trains crossing on the tracks overhead (CTA, Metra and Union Pacific). My God! It’s so different from wide-open, semi-rural Carol Stream where they live. The kids’ section of the Oak Park Public Library is also beyond their wildest dreams. 

There is so much more to explore together. Wonder Works, the Oak Park Conservatory. Maybe I’ll get one of those bicycles with the sidecar on the front. 

Recently, I asked them what red on the stoplight means. “Stop,” they said. What does the green light mean? “Go,” they said. And what does yellow mean? “Caution,” said Bryce with a casual air as if he tosses such weighty words around with abandon. Whoa! Just turned 3 this past Monday. Obviously, Kristen, the intersection of nature and nurture, who is so awesome I can’t begin to extol her motherly virtues, has been working with these two. And they aren’t the only beneficiaries. I am gifted too, once a week. So precious, so beautiful, so innocent. And so alive.

So, Lesley, with all due respect, it’s quite possible for grandfathers to fall in love with their grandchildren, and I’m not the only one. I think back to Frank Muriello, who, when I told him I was a grandfather-to-be, said simply, “Never turn down a babysitting request.” And he had lots of them. I suspect he fell in love, too.

Every time the boys call me “Papa Ken,” I fall in love all over again. And I’m sure Papa Jim, their other grandfather, would heartily agree.

You undoubtedly meant well, Lesley, but don’t sell grandfathers short. The jolt is equally visceral, then it deepens. 

And it endures.

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