The gift of grandfathers

Changing diapers and running car pools, a new generation of involved grandfathers is making a difference in their kids' and grandkids' lives

Published June 12, 2006 10:40PM (EDT)

Ever wonder what has become of the first generation of so-called Mr. Moms -- those trailblazing dads of the 1970s and '80s who showed everyone how cool it was to be involved in their kids' lives? Well, many of them are helping to raise a new generation as amazing grandfathers, wrote the Wall Street Journal's Jeff Zaslow in his "Moving On" column last week (subscription required).

"Mr. Grandmoms today are redefining the parameters of grandfatherhood," writes Zaslow. "This year, as Father's Day approaches, more grandfathers than ever are participating in and having a greater influence on their grandchildren's lives, research shows." That's because they already bring a skill set gained while parenting their own kids, argues Kyle Pruett, a Yale School of Medicine professor, who has followed stay-at-home dads since 1981. And unlike earlier generations who bristled at the title of Mr. Mom (from the 1983 movie with Michael Keaton), Pruett says this generation of "Mr. Grandmoms" likely would be amused.

The Web site conducted a survey for the Journal that found that of more than 1,300 parents questioned, 72 percent had their parents living nearby. And 77 percent of those grandfathers chipped in with childcare. (Although nearly half of respondents said the grandmothers were better at it, 41 percent said the granddads measured up just fine, and 3 percent said the men were actually better.)

Grandfathers' contributions matter, too -- especially since they offer much-needed fathering to children growing up in homes without dads. Psychologist John Guidubaldi, who at Kent State University studied relationships between grandfathers and grandchildren living in homes with a single parent, found that that kids (notably boys) who had an active grandfather had more confidence, had fewer social problems and did better in school.

Even men who were too busy to spend much time with their own kids are enjoying the chance to be involved with their grandkids. Zaslow tells the story of Randy Sticha, police chief of Westmont, Ill., who bonded with his 9-year-old grandson, Anthony, after his daughter moved back home three years ago. "Back then, I worked so darn much, and I was always thinking, 'I can play with the kids tomorrow,'" he told Zaslow. "I'm getting a second chance with Anthony." His grandson wrote an essay about him, and last week, Sticha won the Grandfather of the Year award from the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative.

What a lovely social trend.

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at

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