When we became grandparents we were determined, I think, to carry that attitude forward, to give that role fresh meaning, however surprised we may have been by the fact of grandparenthood itself. We felt we were still young and on the come line of life, and that would connect us to our grandchildren in a new manner.
First, there was the naming thing. What would we be called? Meredith immediately said she wanted to be called Nan, the endearing name of her beloved maternal grandmother. I didn't have a family reference. My grandparents were, in fact, Grandma and Grandpa.
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I remember the reaction of Robert Redford when he became a grandfather to two energetic munchkins. We were walking out of a restaurant after a day of skiing. Bob was every inch the Sundance Kid, lean and athletic in boots, blue jeans, and a buckskin jacket. Bystanders gave him the long, admiring stares reserved only for the biggest stars.
Suddenly his red-haired toddler grandkids came running after him, calling out, "Grandpa Bob, Grandpa Bob!" Bob turned and scooped them up, laughing, realizing he'd been busted. Loud enough for his fans to hear, he said, "Not in public, kids. Not in public."
Informally I surveyed friends and others who were also entering this new, welcome, and yet unaccustomed place in life. A dashing airline pilot I met at a Jackson Hole cocktail party said with a self-aggrandizing air, "I've told my grandson to call me Sport."
I preferred the mischievous response of my friend Peter Osnos, the book publisher. "I have them call me Elvis," he said. "What do they know?"
A longtime friend in South Dakota, Larry Piersol, a federal judge, was plainly pleased when his grandchild spotted him wearing a large hat at the family farm and immediately began calling him Cowboy. A New York neighbor, a distinguished psychiatrist, is a Belgian native, so he came up with Le Grand Papa.
Another new grandfather about my age had recently married a younger woman and insisted that his grandson call him by his first name, Ben. And so he did, and the two of them became very close. When Ben visited his grandson's preschool on grandparents' day the child looked up and said, "Ben! What are you doing here?" Ben replied, "It's grandparents' day. I'm your grandfather." The child's eyes widened and he said, "You are?"
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Excerpted from The Time of Our Lives by Tom Brokaw Copyright © 2011 by Tom Brokaw. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc.