THIS ISN’T THE BOOK I expected Ian Haysom to write.
Having run the newsrooms of the Vancouver Sun, the Vancouver Province, BCTV, CHEK and Global B.C., and being a gifted storyteller, it just seemed natural that the Central Saanich man would pen a collection of journalism war stories.
Note the word “modern.” That’s a key theme here.
“The stereotype of the grandfather is a white-haired, kindly old man who wears slippers and sits his grandchildren on his knee and has a wrinkly smile,” Haysom writes in the introduction. “That’s not what we see. We still see ourselves as vibrant, useful, relevant participants in the world.
“Then again, that’s probably not what our grandchildren see. They see white-haired kindly old men. They have better eyesight than us.”
Haysom — who used to write columns for the Times Colonist and still pens commentaries for CHEK, where he keeps his hand in as a consultant — has always had a deceptively light style. He writes with wry humour about everyday slices of life, but often in a way that speaks to something bigger; think of William Blake seeing the world in a grain of sand. Or, as he puts it, Bill Bryson with arthritis.
So, while the book is largely made up of short accounts of days spent with his grandchildren, it isn’t just a compilation of anecdotes from another grey beard smitten by his offspring’s offspring. It’s also about how today’s grandfathers are trying to figure out their place in a time in which family structures are changing and people are staying healthy and living longer, often leaving the workforce with plenty of gas left in the tank.
That’s where Haysom found himself in the summer on 2013, when he volunteered to look after his then 3 1/2-year-old granddaughter, Mayana. It came at a critical time.
“After more than 45 years working as a journalist, I was leaving the daily grind of journalism and heading to the dreaded r-word: retirement,” he wrote. “Some guys yearn for retirement. I had mixed feelings. Retirement meant all the cliches to me… a lack of purpose, doddering into a life of seniors’ specials and matinee movies, a world of baggy cardigans and pinochle or euchre, whatever they are.”
At one point that summer, Mayana turned to him and asked: “What do you want to be, Grandad?” Good question. As it turned out, the answer — or at least part of it — was that he wanted to be a grandfather. He relishes the role. (“Why is your hair so grey, Grandad?” “Because your mum made me old.”)
There’s more to the book than grandfatherhood. He touches on religion and music and art and how he likes the OK Boomer put-down that makes others of his age bridle: “It’s about time my generation was laughed at and ridiculed on TikTok and Instagram and all those other platforms we don’t quite understand but pretend to.”
Why Grandfathered instead of a book about his time in journalism? Well, he does intend to write the latter, though it will tilt away from the dark stories and toward the entertaining ones, like the time Pierre Trudeau wanted to punch him out. But right now, a book about everyday family life makes a good antidote to the news.
“I love humour writing, and I love gentle humour writing,” he said Saturday morning, grateful to accept a phone call as an alternative to changing the diaper of his fourth grandchild, who arrived a couple of months ago.
“It’s sort of nice to have something that says ‘look the other way, look at the good side.’ ”
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.