The ag media has made a modest industry out of succession planning. Not without good reason however—research shows farmers will spend $1.27 to avoid a dollar in taxes.
In the meantime, a more preventable tragedy of non-planning looms: the failure of too many farmers (almost exclusively the male members of our profession) to formulate a working business model for being a grandparent. These hapless victims will awkwardly juggle a newborn in total surprise, despite the atmosphere of estrogen hysteria during the preceding months.
Simultaneously, they will discover new expectations for their own conduct, just after their years of struggle to lower that bar.
Even those who could see this coming, (we know where babies come from—it’s in Wikipedia) found we had no spreadsheet for our new role! Then wham! We were grandpas, with all the rights and responsibilities pertaining thereunto.
Rehearse your stories, especially the "really true" ones
Honestly, I thought it wasn’t going to be that hard. But like others, I was late detailing my strategy. Remember that deadline can be closer than you think—as discovered by some of my friends whose children married families, not just individuals. Don’t count on an eight-month heads-up for this crucial decision.
Grandpa-style. While there is considerable latitude to develop a unique Grandpa style, virtually everything has been done before. So when your lap is suddenly filled with a squirmy interrogator, many of us panic and fall back on hazy memories, dooming us to recreate a sad parody of our progenitors. Not only do we forfeit a rare chance to exert some individuality, but can inadvertently blot out a lifetime of determined effort not to end up like our fathers.
My advice is to begin observing grandparents about a decade older than you for examples. One warning signal might be when your oldest goes to college. After all, the usual six years needed for a four-year degree can flash by.
Start by familiarizing yourself with some standard Grandpa Styles, such as:
- Wise Patriarch: Uses a flexible memory to recall life as better back in the day. Remembers himself as way better.
- Gruff Curmudgeon: Speaks in monosyllabic conversations, punctuated by cynical pronouncements. Avoids many family duties by being tiresome, however.
- Dedicated Enthusiast: You’re only as young as you pretend.
- Genial Buffoon: Embraces all situations with humor. The same humor—over and over. Oddly this is not a problem for most grandchildren to grasp.
These are not so much unique business models as much as a progressive adaptation to the willpower of the small people who will reprogram your personality code.
A special warning must be given to those fathers who missed the opportunity to have daughters: Science has found no antidote to the granddaughter, and few have any natural immunity. Do not be troubled by a growing habit of throwing Grandma under these little pink buses—"It’s fine with me, honey, but ask Grandma." Sooner or later we all end up there.
Practice make perfect. Now is also the time to master the arts of grandparent craft. Practice buckling your dog into a car seat. In fact, prepare for an elaborate new regimen of child safety. Follow it scrupulously and keep your opinions to yourself, pointing out the absurdities only when you and Grandma are alone.
Memorize the cartoon channels on your TV and master Netflix. I recommend "Shaun the Sheep."
Perform safety drills with cabinet locks, stairway gates and doorknob protectors—they are trickier than you might think. Master the art of sliding your bare feet a few millimeters above the carpet to avoid stepping on Legos full-weight. Get used to cheese pizza. Wear flannel shirts year-round—they are way more absorbent. And get your own sippy cup—toddlers don’t know whose is whose.
Rehearse your stories, especially the "really true" ones. Children have remarkable memories for fantasy and expect consistent fibbing. Memorize a few bedtime stories—they’ll conk out faster in dim light.
When the stork flies by your house on the way to your son/daughter, you’ll be prepared to provide invaluable backup to the real backup (Grandma). And, if you are lucky, you might be awarded the highest of all honors: a nickname. Children around here call me "Silly Ol’ Grandpa."
John Phipps farms in Illinois and is the host of "U.S. Farm Report." Visit www.agweb.com for station listings. To view past columns, visit www.farmjournal.com or www.johnwphipps.com.