Dinner With Pa-Pa: Learning From 70+ Years Of Love

I’m on my way home from a short trip to New York City. I spent the weekend in a work-group with colleagues and spent some time with family. Deb came with me and we left the kids at home with our super angel nanny, Olga.

It was a bit of a whirlwind, so there wasn’t time to see friends. We had dinner with my parents a couple of times and with my 94-year-old grandfather, Pa-Pa.

My grandmother died 20 years ago and he has been in his current relationship for about 19 years now.

Pa-Pa is the youngest of four siblings. His oldest sister died when she was 98, his brother died at 101 and his other sister died at 97 (I could be off a year or two, but you get the point). They were part of a longevity study at Columbia.

Pa-Pa fought in WWII. He was stationed on the island of Saipan as an aircraft officer for the US Army AirCorp. He got married to my grandmother before going overseas. When he returned, he joined his older brother and my great grandfather, who had a folding box company in Hoboken, New Jersey.

I’m an only child and an only grandchild on my mother’s side. I worshipped my grandfather growing up. He used to make the best pancakes when I stayed over with pure maple syrup and Tiptree Black Currant Preserves. Once I put a sign outside his house that said: “Pa-Pa’s perfect pancakes.” I told him they were too good to keep to ourselves.

I interned at his company for a couple of summers when I was in school and worked there for almost three years after college before deciding to go to graduate school for psychology. The possibility was there for me to be the next in line. My first email address was boxking@excite.com.

When I told Pa-Pa that I didn’t want to continue working at the company and that I wanted to go to graduate school, he was understanding and supportive. He didn’t want me to stay if it wasn’t right for me.

After completing my master’s degree at NYU in general psychology, I decided to go to London to study child psychology at the Anna Freud Centre.

There were about 30 women in my program and 5 men. I fell in love with one of my classmates, my wife, Debbie. We started off as friends. I fell for her before she fell for me. My grandfather visited during this window of unrequited love and the three of us went for dinner.

​​Pa-Pa loves to tell the story about what happened during that dinner. At one point when I went to the bathroom, he told Deb that I liked her and that I was shy and he asked her if she liked me. I inadvertently locked my keys in my apartment that night and ended up sleeping on the floor of Deb’s dorm room (nothing happened). A few months later we were engaged. That was 15 years ago.

My grandfather was married to my grandmother for over 50 years. He loved and adored her. Before Deb and I got married, he told me that the key to a good marriage is to always put her first.

At dinner this weekend, I asked Pa-Pa how he feels to be 94. He’s the last remaining sibling and he has had a tough time physically in the last few years. This is what he said:

“When I’m home alone, I feel like I’m 94. When I’m with my love, I feel young.”

Deb and I looked at each other and started to cry. It wasn't a platitude. It was pure love. What an inspiration to think that everything just melts away when he looks at her, that nothing else matters and time stands still. 

It's easy for relationships to become stale over time and for reciprocity to turn into mutual deprivation. Pa-Pa has walked his talk in his 70+ years of relationships with my grandmother in his current relationship. All you need to do is look at the twinkle in his blue eyes to see it. 

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​David B. Younger, Ph.D is the creator of Love After Kids, helping couples with their relationships since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couple’s therapist with a web-based private practice and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and Thrive Global. David lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, two kids and toy poodle.

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