The Singular Joy of Grandchildren

I haven’t been quite as focused on work since Laila was born three months ago.


I can’t keep the secret from my colleagues any longer: Lately I’ve been a little checked out at work. I’m still delivering my deliverables and hopping to every client request, but ever since my granddaughter Laila was born in April, I’ve been . . . distracted.

In meetings, on conference calls, or while trying to write a coherent memo, my attention drifts to the more important question: “I wonder what Laila’s doing?”

It helps that my daughter Emily shares a steady stream of photos and videos to keep me up-to-the-minute. That endless email thread can wait—here’s a shot of Laila staring into space, and there she is after nursing, grinning like a drunken Buddha. Let me mute this teleconference meeting so I can watch Laila shake her chubby legs and scream. Adding to the distraction, Emily moved in only six blocks away, so I can visit whenever I want, ASAP messages be damned.

I don’t recall losing concentration so easily when Emily and her two brothers were infants in the 1980s and ’90s. But back then, getting pictures to relive their little moments took days, and that’s if I remembered to finish a roll of film and take it to the photo lab.

The Singular Joy of Grandchildren

Now, every coo and tongue-rolling smile can be viewed via text message almost in real time. Thus I find myself nodding earnestly with a client, waiting for the second I can break to the hallway and catch the latest installment in the wondrous life of a 3-month-old.

Another difference is that now I’m so much further into my career. When I became a father in my early 30s, I felt the financial pressure of raising a family, which made me hyperfocused on work. Play time mattered, too, and I was devoted to my children. But I was a multitasking fiend and often prioritized my business over everyone else’s needs, including my own. I see some of those same tendencies in my son-in-law, as he juggles his duties as a new father and a primary provider.

Some 30-plus years after my own struggles, the demands of work don’t seem so urgent. When I’m pressing a sweet-smelling baby against my chest, I’m content simply listening to her breathe. Maybe it’s the benefit of gaining financial security, the perspective that comes from growing older, or simply that I’m no longer the one losing sleep or changing every diaper. Whatever the cause, I’m starting to resist my usual Type A impulses. A client has a crisis—what crisis? Can someone hand me a spit-up towel?

So, to all of my colleagues—office mates and journalists, clients and direct reports—know that I still love you, just not as much as I used to. If a call cuts out, I duck an invitation to a meeting, or I leave a “close of business” request hanging until the next day, don’t fret. I’ll get back to you—on grandfather time.

But don’t even try reaching me weekdays at noon. That’s when I stop by Emily’s place to bounce Laila on a yoga ball and we dance to Van Morrison while watching John Oliver reruns. What could possibly compete with that?

Mr. Ripp runs a press-relations firm in New York.

Appeared in the August 1, 2018, print edition.

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