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Feeling thankful for grandparent and child reunions

It’s a season of hugs and gratitude.
Donovan Dykes, the grandson of Roy Peter Clark.
Donovan Dykes, the grandson of Roy Peter Clark. [ TIM (CHAZ) DYKES | Photo by Chaz Dykes ]
Published Nov. 18

In a season that holds the promise of family gatherings, gratitude for the blessings we have, and anticipation for the happy reunions of grandparents and their grandchildren, I am inspired by a memory.

I am at a city park in Largo, watching a group of children enjoying the playground. It is near a theater where my daughter Lauren will star in a performance of Gypsy. She will play the famous burlesque queen. I am so proud.

Her boyfriend Chaz will videotape the performance. My job is to watch over his son Donovan, who is about 6 years old. He is an energetic kid and hops on that whirligig thing, called a playground spinner. Before you know it, Donovan is spinning like crazy, and all I can think of is what my family will do to me if he falls off.

Then I see her, a sweet little girl, maybe 4, bright eyes and ponytail, watching from a distance, hands behind her back, with a look somewhere between awe and longing. Donovan notices her. With care he drags his foot to slow the spinning, until it comes to a stop. He gestures for the girl to come over, helps her on and carefully pushes the device around at a friendly speed. The look on the girl’s face turns to absolute delight.

Now I am in awe. Who is this gallant lad? This 6-year-old capable of such kindness, who sacrifices his vigorous play for the little girl’s joy? I may have thought: “No one will have to worry about the future of this child. I see only a future of hope and virtue.”

Three years later, Donovan will become my grandson.

Adopt your own

I had the usual expectations of a father of three daughters: that I would one day enjoy the affection of grandchildren, oh, maybe six or seven. This expectation was driven by stories from other grandparents — mostly women — who would testify how much fun it was to play with a little one and watch them grow. “You get all the good stuff,” one granny told me. “Then at the end of the day you get to give them back.”

The years went by and three daughters led to four weddings — and no babies. The three are all now in their 40s, so, barring the inconceivable, Roy will have no biological offspring to teach how to make farting noises with your hand cupped under an armpit.

What followed was what I might call grandparent shaming, “Oh, Roy, you don’t know what you are missing. Tell those girls to get to work.”

Not on your life — or theirs. Instead, Karen and I took it upon ourselves to “adopt” every available child who came within our influence. Charley and Ethan live next door. They are teens now, but we have known them since birth. Ethan used to knock on our door and ask Karen if I could come out and play, usually leading to a game of catch. Charley would come over to share some of her writing. I gave her a couple of guitar lessons.

Our neighbor on the other side is Jackie, vigorous great-grandmother of twin boys: Evan and Landon. Jackie would watch the boys during the day and Karen would help. Now almost 9, the twins treat Karen as a beloved auntie. They steal stuff from my snack drawer, draw funny pictures of me, call me “Dude” and, when I am not looking, fling a water balloon or two in my direction. I am never unprepared. I know how to turn on the hose.

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One small step to being a grandparent

Lauren and Chaz married in 2014 when Donovan was 9. He was fully incorporated into the ceremony and moved to tears when Lauren extended her vows of loyalty and love to her new stepson. From their early days, he called her “LaLa.”

At the wedding, Donovan was the best dancer, a rhythm inherited from his father, a brilliant musician, who played bass with some of Florida’s best party bands, including The Untouchables and The Hunks of Funk. As he got older, Donovan grew in handsomeness, with a head of hair I only wish I could borrow for a weekend.

I would love to testify to all the things I have taught Donovan as his G-Pops, but it is usually the other way around. He taught me the narrative structures of his favorite video games. He could answer any question about the Star Wars mythology, leading to our shared passion for the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda.

By 2015 he had committed to memory the elaborate rap score of the musical Hamilton. What fun to sit beside him when the touring version came to Tampa.

At the moment he is 16, a junior at Sickles High School in Tampa, a young man with a learner’s permit. He has maintained good grades, both in a year of online learning and now back in the classroom.

My Jewish grandmother, Sadie, would brag about me all the time, and I can read in my words an echo of her praise for me. The Yiddish word is “kvelling,” taking pride in your kid with a bit of exaggeration.

A shrink once told me it was better to praise a person for their values than for their accomplishments. I’ve tried to take that to heart. So, as we plan a great reunion at the house for Thanksgiving — all vaccinated and booster-ized — we look forward to sharing the physical affection we all crave.

I have a feeling that when I see Donovan, and get to hug him again, I will remember the joy of that little girl on the playground years ago, when I first fell in love with the kid I can proudly call my grandson.