The circle of life


Evans “Buddy” King

We are all a lot of different “things” in our lives. We all have a lot of different titles, different identities.

At first, we are a son or daughter, maybe a brother or sister. Then we grow older and we become students and maybe athletes or musicians or lots of different “things” that help define our lives while we are growing into the people we will become.

Then there are the “wannabes”, what we want or wanted to be. Unlike being a member of a family, these identities are aspirational, not forced upon us. They are dreams or goals or perhaps delusions.

My progression here was probably typical. At age six, I wanted to grow up to be Superintendent of Schools, just like my dad, at 12 I wanted to become 2nd baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, at 16 I wanted to play outside linebacker for the University of Southern California and then see what Hollywood had to offer, by 21 I wanted to become a writer for Sports Illustrated or the great southern novelist of my generation (why didn’t they warn me about Pat Conroy?).

Thankfully, lurking in the background were more attainable identities – husband, father, friend, small town lawyer.

Eventually, we do grow older and “become” wives or husbands or soul mates to others – one of the most important roles we ever take on. At this time we are also taking on occupations that further define us – we become teachers or secretaries or lawyers or candlestick makers.

Many like to think we are NOT what we do for a living, it’s just what we do, not who we are. But since most of us will have the same job for the majority of our years on earth we usually ARE what we do for a living.

It is certainly not our sole defining title – we are not JUST an auto mechanic or a banker or a veterinarian, not if we have the passion we should for our jobs. They become a large part of our identity.

I AM a lawyer, as much as sometimes I try to avoid the fact. People who have never met me before frequently guess I am one. I find it odd because I rarely wear ties any more at work and I haven’t owned a pair of wing tips since my mother (thankfully) stopped buying them for me in high school.

Perhaps it’s my “practiced arrogance” which is necessary at times, or perhaps gifted to you in law school. Who wants a tentative lawyer? I was once told that I was occasionally wrong but never in doubt. So I carry, for the time being at least, the role of lawyer as one of the larger arrows in my quiver of life experiences.

The most important role many of us will ever take on is that of parent. The proudest moments in life generally involve our own offspring. I remember before my daughters were born that my Dad said, “always remember that every child out there is the best and brightest there’s ever been.”

It was his somewhat subtle way of telling me not to brag on my yet to be born kids. Unfortunately they came along as the “best and brightest” and I was forced to ignore my Dad’s advice.

All of this is backdrop for the title I took on a little over 5 years ago – grandfather. I am the proud grandfather of 5 year old Maggie and 5 month old Molly – 2 beautiful and friendly (Molly’s main hobby at 5 months is smiling and chuckling) little girls.

They truly break my heart when I look at them and I often think of the circle of life – that as I have suffered heart-wrenching losses there have been wonderful additions. The M and M girls could not be any more perfect and I could not love them any more than I do. That said, there are some oddities that come from taking on this role of grandparent.

Well-meaning folks – at work and in the community – say some of the most bizarre things when they learn you have grandchildren. For instance, one of the ladies at my office said “you’ll wish you had had the grandkids before you had your children.”

Think about that one. Seems like an impossibility. How would we be connected then? Where would we have met? She followed that one up with “you’ll love them more than your children.”

I found this one particularly offensive. I have 2 wonderful daughters – are we ranking emotional attachments here? I resent the inference that I have to love my grandkids more than I love my children. While I am a big believer in competition, this is one I don’t want to participate in, thank you.

Finally, there’s the old favorite “you can spoil them and leave them” – not so subtly implying that you leave your children with the task of cleaning up the mess you leave behind after time spent with the grandkids, similar to Canada Geese flying over their neighborhood.

Like it’s some sort of payback for all the hard times your kids gave you. Revenge! Again, I hope not to go down this path that so many grandparents think is an inherited right. I intend to spoil only moderately.

One more thought on this new role – names. What will you be called? My favorite story here is about my great friend and long time law partner Bob. Bob now has 15 or 16 grandkids between himself and his wife.

I think even they have lost count. Bob is also not the grandfatherly type – in many ways. In his 70’s now, Bob still runs marathons and climbs mountains. He did Boston just a couple of years ago. When his first grandchild came along, he was kindly asked what he wanted to be called. Bob replied, “Bob will work fine, always has”.

This brings us to my “grandparent name.” While certainly in the right age group to be a grandfather, I don’t feel old. My close friends might even affectionately (I hope) refer to me as “sophomoric” at times. My wife often teased me that my lifestyle never totally moved beyond my frat house days – blaring music, collecting beer bottles, ownership of dozens of running shoes and very few shoes I can wear to the office. So I didn’t picture myself as a “Gramps” or a “Pop Pop” or even a generic “Grandpa.”

Frankly, I am not sure who ultimately came up with it, but I am “Big Papi” – an ode to David Ortiz, recently and regrettably retired from the Boston Red Sox.

Plus there is a bit of a story in there involving a little dog that my daughters kindly “found and saved” on a visit – having come upon the adorable little creature a few blocks from our house, they walked in with her during a Red Sox game a few years ago and we started calling her “Little Papi” (or “Phoebe”).

My daughter Laura drove back to Charlottesville with Little Papi, having not found her owner before the girls had to leave. The next day one of the ladies at work saw a classified about a dog named Fancy who had gone missing about half a block from her owner’s home. When we took her back to her rightful owner, she went on and on about how nice my girls were for “saving her dog”. I said that was one way of looking at it. Others might call it dog napping.

So Big Papi became a natural name for me in my role as grandfather. It fits and it is comforting. I know that you can’t help but hit a home run as a grandparent and you can never get enough at bats.

Evans “Buddy” King grew up in Christiansburg and graduated from CHS in 1971. He lives in Clarksburg, West Virginia, where he practices law with the firm of Steptoe and Johnson PLLC.