His mother was at a night class. Grandma was tucking in her grandsons. The younger one was easy. He often would say, “I’m going to bed now,” falling asleep as his head hit the pillow. At times he would have nightmares, but generally was a quick and sound sleeper.

His brother, however, two years older, would stay up as long as possible, sometimes falling asleep with his book in hand.

Lately Grandma had noticed her older grandson withdrawing into his own world. He was a handsome child. He looked just like his absent father. While his brother always expressed whatever he felt and observed, the older boy kept thing within. She had learned to watch for the signs. He would “zone” as they say, seeming to be somewhere else. One could sense both visually and viscerally a deep sadness within him.

Tonight as Grandma tucked him in, he had no books and seemed lethargic.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“Nothing.”

But Grandma knew better. After a few minutes the tears started falling down his cheeks.

“I miss my Dad.”

“Oh I know you do.”

She held him in her arms as he sobbed. Once he quieted a little she did her very best to help him past the trauma.

This was not the first times she had been called upon to comfort him. Knowing that it was not good practice to say bad things about a missing parent – even if it were true and well deserved! – when she had to confront this situation, she would say things like, “It’s not your fault, and I know your Daddy loves you.” Inside she would be gritting her teeth wanting to scalp this irresponsible male who reveled in the “seed planting” but did little for the care and cultivation of his product.

Grandma believed the Native Americans had the right idea when it came to the “children’s fire.” Protecting children was at the top on their list. When she saw the film, Testament, Jane Alexander’s last words burned into her brain: “They (the children) deserve better.” Being a divorced woman herself, she knew relationships don’t always work, and children pay a price. And while some espoused a return to “the good old days.” They weren’t always that good. No, it was all very complex; nothing was simple. But the children did deserve better.

Holding her older Grandson she started saying the usual things: “I know it’s hard for a seven-year-old to understand, but our Daddy does love you, and you have done nothing to make problems.”

Then something inside her started rolling, and it came out because her words were right on target. How could a seven-year-old understand? How could he believe his Daddy loved him when there had been no visits, no calls, no gifts for birthdays or other holidays? Of course the boy didn’t know that Daddy had not paid any child support for years, had kept his living arrangements hidden and worked only for cash under the table. When the mother had to go on aid for health care and pressed the issue, finally he was tracked down and hit with a “pay or else” summons.

The grandmother worked very hard not to let her anger come forth, but the roll was started and she let it out.

“I realize that you must wonder how Daddy could love y8ou when he doesn’t come see you or call you, but believe me kiddo, he does love you.”

That was the irony because she knew his father really did love him. The young man had shared with her many times in the first year of her grandson’s life, how his father had never been there for him and that he would never do that. He would be there for his son. The patterns we find ourselves in are hard to remove.

“But,” she continued, “when you get older you’ll understand this a lot better. And maybe now you need to try to look at who is there for you. Look at all the things your mom does for you and how Papa takes you fishing and plays with ou. And here I am. I could be traveling or doing something else, but it’s important to me to help out now. And your uncle and aunt, so many people are here. We all love you. I think there’s a lesson for you to learn here, but perhaps it’s something that you can’t understand till later. Loving someone means being there for them. It means sometimes having to be strict, like when Mom ground you or gets after you to pick up our stuff. As a child you think she’s mean, but later you’ll find out she was helping you to become responsible.”

The roll was really revving up now and Grandma knew her anger toward this boy’s father could get out of control if she didn’t watch it. He had calmed down considerably and was listening to her. His big dark blue eyes, reddened from the tears, stared up at her. It was probably at this point that Clare stepped in. All of a sudden, a new thought struck her.

“You know what honey? I feel sorry for your Daddy.”

Her grandson’s expression changed to one of shock. She went on to explain her words.

“Yes, I feel sorry for him because he really does love you, but he doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s missing by not calling or visiting. He’s missing the most important time in your life. Your soccer playing, your great report cards, meeting your friends, seeing you grow.”

Grandma looked into his dark blue eyes. She deicded it was time to move on and do what she could to inject some humor with one of her favorite games.

“And speaking of growing young man, I told you you can’t get taller than Grandma or I will have to put bricks on your head!”

Her grandson smiled and gave her a big hug.

“I’m okay now, Grandma. Thanks.”

Blowing a kiss, she left his room and headed downstairs to let the dogs out for their evening run. Standing outside on the patio she looked up into the heavenly sky and said a silent “thank you” to Clare.