“Some time later Joseph was told, ‘Your father is ill.’ So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him.”
The story in Genesis 48 presents a cultural practice — grandparents blessing their grandchildren that transcend nations and generations, albeit neglected in modern times. The story tells of how Jacob blessed his grandsons — Joseph’s children.
Yet, it is not unusual to hear a grandparent painfully say he or she is not allowed to be with their grandchild(ren).
There are a myriad of negative life aspects when this happens. It is largely an outright denial of an important relationship for a child as well as a disconnection with his or her heritage. Grandparents can be the buffer between parents and children in times of disagreements. It is not unusual for grandchildren to be freer in expressing their fears and concerns about life to their grandparents instead of their parents.
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My family’s mud-thatched house was about 50 yards from the circular hut where my father’s parents (father and stepmother) lived. My grandfather also had a fire place outside the hut where he received visitors. The hut and fire place were my classroom and shelter.
By the age of 7, I could name about 5-7 generations, who was the father of who, before my father was born. I knew from where my great grandfather migrated, and that he was a porter for the first British colonial governor in Kenya. I learned about my grandfather’s life in the Army, his participation in World War II and the song, Mundu ndakusaa, Ngai atanenda, (No body dies, unless it’s God’s will), sung by military people of our community during the Burma war.
I cannot count the number of times my grandparents saved me from beatings (mere spanking was unknown). My father had forbidden us from ever touching his sugarcanes. He considered that stealing. I considered using sugarcane here and there an exchange of ownership — after all I took care of the garden, weeding and watering.
When I learned that my father had discovered that I had been eating his sugarcanes, I knew the verdict and punishment. I used to run and sit next to one of my grandparents whose simple presence protected me. He couldn’t touch me then or later on that issue.
Early September in 1976, my grandfather sent me to take dry coffee berries to the factory. It was the opening day of schools for third term, but I did it. When I returned home, he called and blessed me before I got ready to go to school. He died a week later.
Space and time limit what I can write about my maternal grandmother. Astonishingly poor with material possessions, but very rich in what matters the most. She had time for us. She visited me the most when I was sick, whether at home or admitted in hospital. During my high school years, she always blessed me when we met at Kenya’s Tala Market and gave me everything of the nothing she had.
I have seen my mother pass the same blessings on to her grandchildren — including my children. After my father saw my children for the first time last year, he held on to them like a precious gift that was lost but had been found, and blessed them.
There is a sense of identity and belonging for children who have a healthy relationship with their grandparents. Children learn their family’s history, where they came from, and the challenges their ancestors faced and overcame.
I have been privileged to witness some friends who are grandparents interact with their grandchildren. I see a level of patience shown by grandparents that is rare for parents who are juggling raising children with work and other matters.
Many adults have testified how their grandparents influenced their lives. A friend of mine recently told me that after she learned her suitor’s favorite pie, she called her grandmother to learn how cook it. They have been married for more than 20 years.
There is no substitute for the role grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren.
Vincent Muli Kituku is an author and speaker for business organizations, schools and Christian groups. Contact him at (208) 376-8724 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.