A Special Grip

Last September, Kate and I pulled off a bucket list item for our family. We spent a long weekend in the wine country of Napa Valley with my oldest daughters Sarah and Shelby and their husbands doing wine tastings and pretending to be rich and famous. Kate and I arrived early and had dinner with our San Fran friends down at the pier. As our meal came, I said the blessing over the meal and for some reason, I added the line, “…and please bless our children and our children’s children.” When I finished the prayer, everyone looked at me and said, “that’s a nice touch are you trying to tell us something?” Not that I knew of.

Later that same evening my daughters flew in from Charlotte and we met up with them at the hotel bar. We were all sitting around the table talking about the next day's itinerary when Sarah handed me a card in an envelope and smiled at me lovingly. I thought it was probably a thank-you note for the trip and so I set it aside, but as I did, she asked me to read it then and there. As I tore open the card I saw a picture of little baby oxford black and white shoes, which seemed kind of different for the occasion, but I brushed it off and opened it. A black and white piece of paper fell out of the card and my heart stopped. Being a dad of seven kids, I knew what an ultrasound photo looked. Sarah was pregnant! I looked up to see her smiling and then I said something dumb like ‘really?’ and then proceeded to babble in joy and hug her and her husband. I get excited just remembering that moment and the incredible memory of the entire Napa weekend, even though Sarah didn’t get to taste any wine with us. She says I just have to take her back again, which wouldn’t be a bad idea either. 

Over the past nine months, Sarah’s pregnancy had been relatively event free until the Memorial Day morning when her water broke at 9 am and she went to the hospital to monitor her progress. At 1 o’clock in the afternoon I got a text from her, “Daddy, when do you think you will be coming down?” She lives in Charlotte, about 2 and a half hour drive from our home in Durham, North Carolina. Truthfully, I was planning to come down after the baby was born, but that changed when Shelby texted me from the hospital, “Dad, I think it would mean a lot to Sarah if you were here.” So, I picked up my youngest kiddos from school, dropped them off at home, packed an overnight bag, kissed my wife and drove to Charlotte to become a grandfather for the first time.

On the 6th floor of the hospital, it was me, Shelby, Sarah’s mom, her in-laws and Will’s younger sister all roaming the hallways taking turns checking in on the expectant mom throughout the evening. Finally, at 11:30 pm, with contractions coming randomly, I kissed Sarah on the forehead and headed home for some sleep, so that I could be somewhat functional the next day.

After a restless few hours, the text came announcing that Jayden Bonner Pitts was born at 1:45 am on May 30, 2017, weighing 8 pounds 6 ounces, and mom and baby were healthy and happy. My heart overflowed with joy and I spent the next hours thanking God for his blessing and asking Him to give me wisdom and perspective around the gravity of becoming a grandparent for the first time.

I walked into Sarah’s hospital room at 7:30 that morning with 2 Starbucks coffees and a smile that hurt my face. Jayden was lying swaddled tight in his bassinet and his father was under the covers of a makeshift bed under the window. Sarah was lying on her side watching her son breathe. She smiled at me as I came close to give her a hug and a kiss. Sitting up, she shared the story of Jayden’s birth just hours earlier. I don’t remember my feet touching the floor that morning in her hospital room; I felt like I was floating.

Then she said, “Do you want to hold him, Pop-Pop?” I grinned and nodded my head, not wanting to cry. Pop-Pop was what I called both of my grandfathers, Anthony Stankavage, and John Grimkowski, and it was also what my children called my dad. Being “Pop-Pop” is a new and significant responsibility for me and I was a little overwhelmed. I lifted the little man from his rest, held him tight and looking right into his dark eyes I said, “I love you, Jayden, welcome to the family.” I put my extra large man hands on his chest and he reached out his slender itty-bitty fingers and curled them all around my index finger and squeezed. My tears fell on his blanket. It was something significant, something generational, a moment I will cherish forever. I whispered a prayer for my grandson: declaring his identity in Christ, covering him in the protection and love of the Father, and rebuking, disarming and defeating any evil or foul spirit that might come against the little man or his family in the days ahead. I never wanted to put him down.

In the days that followed, so many people called and left messages congratulating our family. Many of them asked me what it felt like being a grandpa and I tried to formulate an answer. All I could come up with was the memory of a pastor saying a blessing over me 30 years ago, praying that one day I would get to hear the laughter of my children’s children. That has always stuck with me, and given my fight against leukemia, it is fortunate that I was able to meet the first of my children’s children. I have only heard him cry so far, but I will visit again to feel the joy of his laughter soon.

Amen and Amen.