Becoming a grandparent: the extraordinary and ordinary

In the documentary, The radio man with the red shoes Garrison Keillor describes the experience of seeing his newborn daughter for the first time saying that he was “stunned by the fact that what he had seen was so absolutely normal.” In doing so, he poignantly points out that while the experience was extraordinary for him, it was an ordinary everyday experience that occurs thousands, if not millions, of times a day.

The extraordinary ordinary has a way of humiliating you, of focusing on the events that define us as human beings.

I recently had the pleasure of having one of these extraordinary ordinary experiences. On July 13, I became the grandfather of a beautiful girl. Holding her in my arms for the first time, I marveled at how incredibly extraordinary she felt!

He was overwhelmed by an indescribable emotion that he had never felt before. It was so different from what I felt when my son, the father of my granddaughter, was born that I have spent quite some time reflecting on the difference. I must admit defeat in my attempts to put it into words. Becoming a parent means starting a family, but becoming a grandparent is about completing a circle. For me it was deeply tribal and serenely satisfying. Those of you who are grandparents understand what I am talking about. Those of you who aren’t … well, you probably won’t.

When I found out last November that I would become a grandparent this summer, I wrote a post talking about passing the leadership torch on to the next generation. I said that a good leader knows when it’s time to step aside and that the whole event made me see that my main leadership role as a parent was ending.

A good leader also knows that just because a position is vacant does not mean that it will be filled or, even if it is, that it will be filled appropriately, responsibly, and skillfully. Although many of the leadership skills can be taught, there are aspects that cannot.

A good leader must know not only when to step aside, but also when to step aside. I can put you in a leadership role, but you have to figure out how to take the role and perform it. Fulfilling the roles of parenthood and becoming a parent requires discovering something about yourself as a leader.

Both require you to think and act beyond the present for the best interests of more than just yourself. I saw it happen in the blink of an eye with the birth of my granddaughter. It was palpable when I walked into the room where my daughter-in-law was holding her newborn daughter, and it was overwhelming when my son held my gaze as he placed my granddaughter in my arms for the first time. It was an extraordinary and ordinary moment.

Now, my granddaughter? She is simply extraordinary!

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