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Warmest regards: When grandparents are special heroes

Published February 09. 2019 06:48AM

By Pattie Mihalik

When I answered my doorbell this week I was greeted by an angelic looking little boy who was one of the most winsome children I had ever seen.

“Here,” said the child as he handed me a small flower. “I brought you something. I picked this for you.”

It was an inch-long flower that is actually a weed and would have been overlooked by most people.

Right then and there the 6-year-old boy stole my heart.

He went on to tell me how beautiful he thought the flower was, and I quite agreed with him. Many people call that wildflower a weed, but I’ve always been captivated by the little lavender flowers. I was even more enchanted by the child who brought it to me.

His name is Jay and he was there with his grandfather, who had come to do a small repair project for me.

He told his grandson he could wait in the truck while he repaired my door. I wasn’t going to let that happen. I brought Jay inside and gave him an alligator puzzle to put together.

When he couldn’t fit the pieces together, the little boy went up to his grandfather with silent tears running down his face.

“I can’t get it to fit together,” he said.

At that, his grandfather stopped what he was doing, hugged the little boy and sprawled out on the floor with him to show him how to do it.

It was touching to see the tenderness with which the grandfather treated the little boy.

It was all the more touching because I knew the story behind their special relationship.

Roy isn’t just the little boy’s grandfather. He’s his guardian, his best buddy and his whole world.

In fact, Roy is all he has.

Little Jay’s father is in prison. Incredibly, his mother is in jail for dealing drugs. And so is his grandmother, Roy’s ex-wife.

When the little boy’s mother got sentenced on yet another drug-dealing charge, Children and Youth Services said the child would be put into foster care.

“You can’t do that,” Roy told them.

Roy was asked if he was willing to over Jay’s care.

“He was only 6 months old at the time,” Roy says. “I remember crying as I held him and rocked him, wondering how I was going to raise him by myself. But I knew I would do anything to give the little fellow a good life.”

At the time, Roy was an independent contractor, working long hours and traveling to job sites wherever he could find construction work.

He changed his entire lifestyle, working only when his mother was available to be with Jay.

“She’s up there in years and isn’t in good health, so it was a day-to-day thing,” Roy says. “When I could get a nearby job I worked when I could. I didn’t want to put him in day care because the little fellow had enough trauma in his life. He screamed when I wasn’t there.”

Now that Jay is in kindergarten, his grandfather drives him to school and works while he’s there. After school little Jay comes with his grandfather wherever he is working.

Jay calls his grandfather “buddy.” They are best buds, the center of each other’s world.

“We get by day by day. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I know I will always be at his side,” Roy says.

Roy is more than a grandfather. He’s a quiet hero, coming to the rescue of a little boy who had no safety and no future without him.

There are more and more grandparents stepping up to raise their grandkids when the children’s own parents can’t or won’t raise them.

The U.S. Census Bureau says more than 7 million grandparents have responsibility for their grandkids.

Sometimes the children’s grandparents are in and out of their lives. Sometimes, as in Roy’s case, they are out of the picture.

It’s a little easier when there are two grandparents giving custodial care. Yet, in so many cases, there is nothing easy about it.

We recently went to a big party where an elderly couple was struggling with a crying baby.

The couple told me their daughter had the baby then left it to be on the road with her latest boyfriend. It’s another case where drugs are involved.

The grandparents never thought they would be raising another child at their age. But they weren’t going to let the baby be neglected.

Several of my friends have become late-in-life custodial parents.

Grandparents always played an important role for their grandchildren. But in the past it was a supporting role. It’s different when grandparents are suddenly the only support system a child has.

My friends Kathy and Nicky stepped up to the plate to raise their grandson after their daughter died. While they say it “turned their life around,” they are grateful they can be there for their grandson.

“There are so many rewards to having him. We are so blessed. It’s worth any sacrifice we have to make,” Kathy says.

Roy says that, too. He might not know how he’ll get by from day to day, but he knows with all certainty he will make it happen.

He will do anything for his little buddy.

So here’s a tribute to all the special heroes raising their grandchildren.

Contact Pattie Mihalik at

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