In most families, at any given time, there’s the grandparents, the parents and the kids. As years fast forward, the kids become the parents, the parents become the grandparents. And the grandparents? Well, they eventually pass on to be remembered by old sepia photographs in the bottom drawer.
Often, there is one person in the family who bears the torch of influence and lights the way for others. These “torch-bearers” are the ones who strive to maintain a sense of connection, responsibility and kinship among all members. Depending on the family, there may be differences in who carries this torch, and how smoothly it gets passed on.
The kids usually don’t have to worry about carrying the family torch for a while. Their job is to have fun, grow emotionally and intellectually, and keep their parents on their toes. The parents, during their child-producing years, are so darn busy with raising kids, establishing a career, paying the bills and juggling the things of daily life that they typically have no energy or time for this duty. That often leaves the grandparents. They do their best to carry the torch, and the responsibilities it entails. Things like hosting the traditional dinner, keeping track of relatives, being the quick cash loan center and initiating the dutiful phone calls.
Then comes a generational shift. The kids move out of the house for the first time. The parents discover a new kind of freedom. And the grandparents start becoming a little weird, driving 15 miles below the speed limit, splitting chicken sandwiches at the restaurant and continuing to use the fold-out maps in their glove compartments. Are such people really able to carry a torch…safely?
At this point in my life, I’m probably more sensitive to such matters. It seems like only yesterday when my dad, Vern, was the one driving us around in his big yellow car and snapping his fingers to end any family argument. I’m not sure when it happened, but suddenly I was put behind the wheel. I was holding the torch.
And now, decades later, the torch is starting to feel a little heavy. Yet I still get all twitchy when someone in the family offers to carry it. Even if it’s something small, like deciding who can best map the route to the grocery store.
I recognize that life is about change, whether we wish to gracefully accept it or not. Family influence is something to be earned, to hold dearly for a certain number of years, and then to pass on with love and dignity.
Someday, my great-granddaughter will be playing in her living room and pull out the bottom drawer and find a yellowed photo of this old man with a big nose and ears. It may be silly, but I take comfort today in feeling that I did my fair share of carrying the family torch, and that it still will be burning bright when it is her turn.