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'Papa Days' for R.J.

I don't have any children of my own, yet at age 38 I became a grandfather. Now I'm 41 and my grandson, R.J., is 4. Married for seven years, I was still getting adjusted to instant fatherhood with Gail's son and daughter when our grandson came into our lives.

Our daughter's drug and alcohol abuse and her subsequent abandonment of our grandson, R.J., brought immense torment to our family.

Thousands of dollars and two years later, a custody battle with R.J.'s birth father ended with a rare agreement: joint custody.

Suddenly my inexperienced hands were responsible for a baby. Luckily this wasn't new territory for Gail, who laughingly guided me through the process.

I took my turn staying home from work to care for my grandson when he was sick, thanking God for the inventor of Velcro diapers. I panicked the first time R.J. grew red-faced with fever. I sat in the doctor's office holding him and a note from Gail telling the doctor what was wrong. I also learned about sleepless nights and why people have babies when they're young.

Now I pick R.J. up from day care twice a week and let him choose what we'll do until dinnertime. He calls these "Papa Days."

"Let's go to the park, Papa" or "Let's go fishing, Papa," he'll say. If it's the park, he picks the sport and eagerly shows me how the "real baseball guys" do it. If we end up fishing at the local pond, he's the first to cast his line out. Of course, I don't stand too close when he does this.

Raising a grandchild isn't easy. By the time he goes to his dad's house, I'm exhausted. But when he comes home, I'm more than ready for his return.

R.J. makes me aware of how exciting and terribly scary it is to watch a child grow from birth and experience life. Most of all he makes me aware of the bond between us. I'm willing to do anything and give up anything to keep him safe, healthy and happy.

Would Gail and I change our minds if we had it to do over again? Never.


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