Brian Edwards Media

Second Chance Dad

Reuben Strahan - 18 hours old

Reuben Strahan - 18 hours old

 A few days ago I had  an email from my oldest friend, Ivan Strahan.  ‘Oldest’ in both senses of the word – Ivan and I were at school and university together in Belfast. Now semi-retired, he lives in the lovely little seaside town of Donaghadee with his gorgeous wife Claire. You may have heard of Donaghadee,  perhaps as the chorus of The Old Orange Flute: ‘Toora loo, toora lay, Oh, it’s six miles from Bangor to Donaghadee.’ [I know, it doesn’t rhyme!]

Ivan and I are in regular email correspondence. Regular from him at least; I’m a hopeless correspondent. But this email was special. It was to announce the arrival of Ivan and Claire’s first grandchild:

‘The new arrival made an appearance yesterday, 1st March.  A baby boy, 8lb. 5oz., fair hair, no complications, mother and baby exceptionally well. Attached photos taken at 18 hours old.’

The new baby’s name is Reuben, a name I happen to be particularly fond of since one of my own grandchildren, and my first male grandchild, is also called Reuben.

Ivan has been a little bit anxious about being a grandfather, so I sought to reassure him by sending him the script of ‘Second Chance Dad’, which I wrote for National Radio’s Top of the Morning programme in 1998. Curiously enough, it was broadcast on the occasion of my own grandson Reuben’s fourth birthday.


Grandchildren are special. Talk to any doting grandparent – and ‘doting’  grandparents are the sole variety – and they will inform you, with absolute assurance, that their grandchild is the most intelligent, the most beautiful, the most talented creature that ever breathed air. Where their children’s children are concerned, grandparents are devoid of modesty, without shame, incapable of rational assessment. The child may be the ugliest thing that nature spawned, it may have the manners of a tomcat, the intelligence of a flea, the personality of a rock, and all the charm of masticated chewing-gum, but to its grandparents it will remain the apotheosis of every human virtue, a thing of beauty, whose loveliness increases and is a joy for ever – to paraphrase Mr Keats.

And the feeling seems to be mutual. Guests on this programme speak of their parents with affection generally, with indifference sometimes, with dislike occasionally. They are, perhaps, most often ambivalent. That may be in the very nature of the parent-child relationship, where nurturing and loving go hand in hand with the discipline and behaviour-modification necessary to fit the child for existence as a social being. Life for the child is a combination of wishes granted and wishes denied, and it is small wonder that we often have mixed feelings about our parents.

But it is rare, on this programme at least, to hear anyone say anything bad about a grandparent. Grandparents, it seems, are universally ‘wonderful’.

The reasons are not too hard to find: grandparents grant more wishes than they deny; grandparents have time; grandparents listen; grandparents understand; grandparents know how to keep secrets; grandparents make wonderful allies; grandparents know what your parents were like as children; grandparents have stories to tell.

For all of these reasons, tensions can arise between parents and grandparents. Parents often see their authority undermined by grandparents who are inclined to allow… everything. The answer to the question, ‘Can I, granddad?’, ‘Will you, grandma?’ is almost invariably, ‘Yes’.

Accused of ‘spoiling’, grandparents respond that ‘a little spoiling never hurt anyone’.

‘Then how come you never spoilt us?’

Good question. One of the answers is undoubtedly that it’s easier to spoil a child for whom you have no long-term responsibility, than one who lives with you permanently.  The more cynical or perhaps the more honest among the grandparent fraternity will concede that one of the joys of grandchildren is that they come to stay for short spells ‘and then they go away again.’ Parents have their children often for 20 years or more, and sometimes it seems that they will never ‘go away again’. Parents, generally speaking, have to take the good with the bad. Grandparents, generally speaking, get to take only the good.

But there is, I think, something more to it than that, something deeper. Grandchildren offer us a second chance at parenting, an opportunity to do things better.

I can recall lecturing my children for hours on things they did wrong; I have uncomfortable memories of making them sit at the table, sometimes for ages, till they finished eating something they loathed; I was never physically cruel, but my tongue could leave deep wounds; as a parent, I was ungenerous, intolerant, authoritarian; I have seen fear in my children’s eyes.

As a grandparent, I am a wonderful parent. In part, of course, I have grown older and wiser. I realise that yelling makes everyone unhappy and solves nothing; I know that a child will eat when it needs to eat; I do not see my relationship with my grandchildren as a battle of wills and, if it is, I don’t mind losing;  I am more generous, more understanding, more relaxed; I’m cool!

Of course, it’s easier to be cool when you know that in a few days ‘they’ll go away again’, easier when you don’t have to deal with long-term consequences, easier when saying ‘yes’ makes you so very, very popular.

So being a grandparent has offered me a second chance at being a parent, a chance to do better. And I have done better.

Grand-parenthood has thus been a cathartic experience, an expiation. I feel like a better person. I am a better person. And it’s such good fun!

So I think I’ll have lots more grandchildren – maybe 10 or 15 or 20 . And when I’m 80 I’ll sit in my rocking chair on the back veranda and tell stories about how I used to be a famous person and had my own programme on the radio, called Top of the Morning, and how I once said I was going to have ten or fifteen or twenty grandchildren.

I’m looking forward to it.

‘Tell us again what radio was, granddad!’




  1. A lovely post Brian, thankyou.

    Although I have nothing but admiration for the growing number of grandparents who, for a variety of reasons, are forced in to the role of parenting their grandchildren, I can’t help but think that both generations lose something from the arrangement.

    My 90 year old father lives in a “grandad flat” attached to our house. He, my husband, myself and our 9 year old son are all richer for the experience.

  2. Im sure saying yes does make you popular with your grandchildren but possibly less so with their parents.

    • Im sure saying yes does make you popular with your grandchildren but possibly less so with their parents.

      Quite right. But you don’t set out to counteract their rules of conduct. If Mum says ‘No lollies’ or ‘In bed by 8.30′ then that’s what happens. Well, maybe 8.45 and one M&M.

  3. Great post! I have sent it on to my in-laws – grandparents to my toddler daughter – as I know your words will resonate with them.

    They are rediscovering the joys of young children all over again – or in Bill’s case, in some ways for the first time: as a young dad he held down two jobs and thus missed out on a lot of his son’s childhood. This time round, and now a retiree, he has the leisure to watch and enjoy his baby granddaughter grow up, marvelling at her development. Living next door, we visit every day, an arrangement that works well for grandparents, parents and toddler alike.

    I particularly appreciate that you were brave enough to detail your own failings as a parent, (no doubt wincing in hindsight). It would have been easy enough for you to have dodged behind something bland like: “I wasn’t always a very good dad”.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    • Great post! I have sent it on to my in-laws – grandparents to my toddler daughter – as I know your words will resonate with them.

      And thank you, Kate, for a lovely comment.

  4. Nice post, but one problem – I’ve got The Ould Orange Flute stuck in my head now, which is annoying. Some very inventive rhyming in it, but still quite annoying to find myself humming snatches of it.

    • Nice post, but one problem – I’ve got The Ould Orange Flute stuck in my head now, which is annoying.

      Yes, and of course it’s a loyalist, anti-papist song, appropriately non-PC these days.

  5. To hell with PC, Brian, it’s a great song. I realise that many of the old songs and doggerel contain elements that would be *ahem* frowned upon these days, but there’s no denying they were well put together. Lord, I’ll spend the rest of the day day either whistling OOF or muttering “The de’il a man in this townland was claner rared nor me, but I’m livin’ in Drumlister, in clabber to the knee…”

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