My Grandfather was born in 1938, just before World War 2 to two very working-class, Northern English parents. He didn’t even know what a gay man was until he was well into his twenties, and had never thought about having a potential gay grandchild.
At the age of 22, he graduated from Durham University with his teaching degree and spent the next 43 years as a maths teacher at various schools and colleges in the north of England. He was a father to two children, an older forward thinking, headstrong, and annoyingly full-of-herself girl (my mother), and a slightly irritating but fairly competent, younger, boy (my uncle). He married his teenage sweetheart (my grandmother) the year he turned 23 and spent 58 years with her until she passed away in 2021. He was set up to be a very English, very boring old man.
My mother had described him as a very strict but loving father who acted both as a teacher and home provider but was never usually very soppy when it came to emotions.
Then in 2000, his first grandchild was born (me!), followed by three others in 2003, 2006, and 2008. And suddenly David had to move into the 21st century.
As we grew up, he and my grandmother were extremely involved in our day-to-day lives, with my grandmother taking the stricter supervisory role, and for lack of better wording, him letting us do whatever we wanted. Between the ages 2-10 I had set him on fire, forced him to wear towels over his clothes as a ‘dress’, hit him with a ruler numerous times, forced him to colour an entire sheet of paper all in red – and then made him do it again in blue, and before his cancer diagnosis in 2009, forced him to drag me around in a box until it collapsed (EVERY WEEK!!!). (My mother also asked that I add that we often made him sit in a small Wendy house for extended amounts of time as punishment for being the “naughty” child, while my cousins and I would continue to play whatever game we had previously been engrossed in.) And never once did he raise his voice.
Between the ages of 11-16, he would simply hang out with me; once a week, we would watch whatever TV show I was invested in that week, chat about my school antics, listen to me ramble, or even once he let me go through my entire French coursework for him 3 times over for one full afternoon. Our relationship was much more that of two friends at this point, rather than a granddaughter and grandfather.
Now our relationship is very different. As I have grown older, I have begun to take more of an adult and carer role. Due to his age, he can no longer drive, struggles to travel long distances, and is simply not as active as he used to be. This means there has been a sort of switch in our relationship, I often drive him places and shop for the two of us. Yet the original dynamic that had developed across my teenage years has stayed. Through this, he has been forced into the 21st century.
His relationship with technology seems entirely hinged on his dynamic with the family. With two grandchildren attending university, he has been forced to learn how to regularly use Facetime and even texts. Within the last two months, he has not only gained a handle on texting but has begun to use emojis in everyday speech. To the point that it’s sort of irritatingly impressive.
He tells me he finds technology hard to handle, yet regularly watches Netflix specials, watches YouTube, and texts me most days.
He sees himself as “out on a limb” or on the periphery of the modern world which he described to me as having his grandchildren “at the centre of it”. He believes that he finds modern films “hard to follow” with them being “too involved” for his older brain to follow. He seems to see himself as lesser due to his age and believes that we (his grandchildren, and his children) have a better grasp on life, as well as, being more important due to our younger age. However, he still accesses various sports channels, regularly facetimes individual grandchildren, does word puzzles and chats with varied neighbours daily, and still has time to rant about how annoying some of them are.
While I see him as the centre of our family, he and my grandma often used to bring all the family together. And in reality, they both still do, for the last few years we have all gathered for my grandma’s birthday. I think he is very forward-thinking and hasn’t been left behind – he is constantly attempting to understand me, the slang I use, my cousins and what is going on in their lives. Even if he doesn’t fully understand what we are saying, he is always supportive. The younger me agreed – he was the first person I came out to at 12 (something I have no memory of).
I am writing this article to give people a different perspective on the older generation. Okay, not all old people are as cool as David, and honestly, some of them downright suck. But I think it’s important to still remember that they are still people, including their thoughts, insecurities and beliefs. David isn’t cool because he’s my grandad, he’s cool because he made an effort and the choice to still engage.
Image courtesy of Hannah Senior.