Our family celebrates two birthdays this month. Our oldest son turns 38, and our grandson turns one. These birthdays have caused me to reflect on the difference between being a father and a grandfather. My oldest son’s birthday makes my wife and me feel older. Our grandson’s makes us feel younger. Go figure.

Isn’t life a funny thing? I remember when I turned 38, I began to use the word “almost” when I told someone how old I was. Yes, I was “almost 40.” Many of my friends my age or older use this word often. “How old are you going to be on your next birthday?” I ask, and they respond, “Almost 80,” even though their 78th birthday is next week. Yes, I’m smack-dab in the middle of the “almost” phase of life.

Even though I’m new to grandparenting, it seems to have counteracted the “almost” stage of life. I’ve told my sons that even at “almost 65,” I never want to stop growing as a father. One of the greatest testimonies my family could give about me would be that on my last day of life, I was a better father than the day before.

As fathers, we must purpose in our hearts never to stop learning and to continue seeking the heavenly Father about how to reflect Him more completely. By the way, do you know the secret to being a “great” grandparent? Being a better parent.

Here in the “almost” stage of life, I’ve learned to make adjustments. The passage of time changes your priorities. As a young father, I focused on my career. The harder I worked at climbing the ladder, I thought, the better father I would be by providing my children with a bigger house and the latest gadgets or fashions. Looking back, I can see that my children would have preferred a father who gave them time instead of toys. I hope I made the shift soon enough, because time is all I have left to give.

“Cat’s in the Cradle,” a haunting song written in 1974 by Sandy and Harry Chapin, tells the story of a father who doesn’t have time to give his son. As the father moves into the “almost” stage of life, his son doesn’t have time to give to his father. When he grows up, the son says, “I’m gonna be like you.”

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch,
and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talking ’fore I knew it,
and as he grew

He’d say, ‘I’m gonna be like you, Dad

You know I’m gonna be like you.’ 

And he was. What a tragic legacy! There is nothing wrong with focusing on your career and providing for your family, but not at the expense of missing opportunities in your children’s lives. This shift in my life will affect my grandson, Titus, and the decisions I make as I watch him grow.

During these “almost” years, I have also allowed my heart to be moved more freely. When I see my grandson scooting to keep up with his Poppy, my heart is deeply moved. But my heart is moved just as quickly with the concerns of my grown children. I was moved this week when my youngest son sent pictures of a new porch he and a friend had built. And my oldest son remodeled his bathroom not long ago. Of course, I had to inspect both projects, and my sons did an incredible job.

I find great joy when my sons ask me to participate in their lives. Every year, my oldest son invites me to come and teach for two days in his public school classes, the highlight of our year. He gets a couple of days off, and I get to spend time with him at his work. Then, my youngest son calls and asks me to preach in his church, and my heart is overwhelmed that both boys have invited Dad into their worlds.

Do you know what’s great about the “almost” years? They give you a second chance in the lives of both your children and your grandchildren. I know many of you dads have grown up like me, and your parenting style looked a lot like mine, but we must change. I am enjoying being a father today more than I ever have, and I can’t even begin to express my joy at being a granddad. But one wouldn’t happen without the other. And I don’t want to miss out on either one.

That’s why I say to my heavenly Father, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad. You know I’m gonna be like you.”