I’ve been doing the math. Or, The Math. It’s not hard. It’s family.
My maternal grandparents were just shy of age 40 when they became grandparents. My paternal ones were in their early 40s when that happened, as were my parents. In fact, my parents would have three grandchildren before 50, and two more before reaching my age of 55. My brother, two years older than I, entered grandpappy stage nine years ago. It’s old hat to my sister, two years younger, through the benefit of marriage. So it’s definitely time. Not that there was a question.
And not that there was much doubt, although timing is always out of our hands. My daughter got married four years ago, though, and has a wide domestic and nuturing streak, as does her husband. Either one, I suspect, would be pretty content to stick around the house with a child, learning, as I did, how to see the world again from a slightly shorter perspective. This was going to happen.
I can’t help thinking about this new role, particularly now while we wait. As I said a few days ago, I’m thinking of it more as Dad Plus, like adding a leaf to the dining room table. Same function, slightly different situation. And as above, it’s definitely time.
What struck me, though, and is on my mind mostly, has to do with this young life, and me. Imagining futures at this moment is fun but foolish, and I know from experience. What genetic gifts stream from my side of the equation – we can only hope he has decent eyesight – are pretty meager compared to all the other variables he’ll encounter, starting from the most important ones, his parents. Barring some move I don’t see in the immediate future, his relationship with me will be a little distant, hopefully a few times a year in person, and then maybe as a familiar face on the iPad or monitor, waving from the Pacific Northwest, where we have trees and mountains (come visit, little dude!).
And here’s the throat-clutcher: He will be the last person to remember me.
With plenty of caveats: He could have siblings or cousins, sure. All sorts of situations are possible, including me living until I’m in triple digits, but just making an educated guess, based on the moment? He’s my biographer, my memory book, the conservator of my brief existence in this world, in this time. When he’s gone, for all intents and purposes so am I.
This is the way it’s supposed to be. Of course. Duh.
It’s compelling, though. I have no issues with being forgotten, just fascination. This child has a good statistical chance of living into the next century, a moment when I will have been dead and dust, probably, at least 50 years. He has an excellent chance of being the last person alive who touched me, spoke with me, remembers how I moved and spoke in casual moments. And even if I have a slew of grandchildren, and even their children, while I still stay unshuffled off the coil, I suspect he’ll be the one. The one who remembers, and the last one, and then I’m done.
This cheers me today, even though we’re actually talking about The End Of Me. Enough me, I say (some readers say too). I’ve written millions of public words, mostly about the trivial details of my trivial life, a very contemporary expression, and that will probably never vanish. My descendants, if they want, will have a lot of material to work with if imagining another time and another man is on their minds. You’re welcome, kids. Have at it.
But that isn’t legacy, and never has been for humans. Around here somewhere, in a box, are notes and letters from my grandparents. If I were to dig around, they’d be mildly interesting, and mostly just to remind me.
I remember our conversations, our trips to visit. I remember their stories. I remember the ways they held a coffee cup, passed a plate, cooked breakfast. I remember their quirks, their faults, their habits, and their paths as they and I aged in our different times and stages. I remember how each and every one of them laughed. I’m remembering that right now.
I told a friend the other day that suddenly I found myself deep into existential crisis of the weird variety. It occurred to me that I desperately wanted to stay alive to see the last episode of “Breaking Bad.” It was a joke, but then. Jokes. I want to stay alive a bit more, is all.
And one more reason arrives very soon. As I said, it cheers me, this idea of my not-yet grandson on the other side of a whole bunch of calendar pages. He’s ancient in a world always obsessed with youth, and he’s tied by time to another existence. He could tell you about this, about his childhood in the 2020s and reaching adulthood in the 30s, his successes and failures mid-century, his memories of events and politics and people, and with luck he can tell you about his grandfather.
“I remember his laugh,” he says, and my God that makes me smile today.