A Florida Granddad's Quest to Bridge the Generations.
Published: August 29, 2018
By: Greg Carannante
Robert Martin is a grandparent on a mission. Having experienced a full arc of grandfatherhood — from the rare pleasure of co-writing books with one young granddaughter to the tragic loss to terminal brain cancer of another — Martin’s mission is fueled by his connection to those grandchildren.
The plight of Clara, the 5-year-old who passed late last year after a year-and-a-half battle, inspired Martin to create the nonprofit Bridge to a Cure Foundation to foster the
development of pediatric cancer treatments.
Clara’s story also inspired the recently published book that Martin, 70, wrote with Clara’s 11-year-old sister, Keira.
SuperClara — A Young Girl’s Story of Cancer, Bravery and Courage follows their first book, The Case of the Missing Crown Jewels, the first in The Keira and Papa Detective Agency Series.
The book is intended to help grandparents connect with their grandchildren as they try to solve the mystery together.
Strengthening that grandparent-grandkid connection is a major focus of Martin’s mission. The Fort Myers resident is a widely traveled, former Fortune 500 executive turned children’s advocate, whose website (www.RobertMartinAuthor.com) is not only a vehicle for his books and foundation but also a forum for his advice on the dynamics of engaged grandparenthood.
That was the starting point for our recent conversation.
What is the most important thing a grandparent can give to his grandchildren?
I think just saying “love and affection” is too simple. My children, their parents, still have flaws. And when they become adults they don’t really want us to critique what their flaws are. And there are flaws that I think could not be helpful to my grandchild. So what I try to do is identify where those gaps are and to fill the gap.
When the parents are both working, and that’s often the case, it’s a very stressful time. They are not always able to identify opportunities or a challenge that a child is facing. It will be quite evident to a grandparent. And in a very sensitive and delicate way, grandparents can jump in and be very helpful. A grandparent can play an important role in staying connected, having that open relationship and being able to identify challenges or opportunities and share them with the parents.
In this digital age, the lives of today’s grandchildren are in many ways so different from those of even the children that grandparents raised as parents. How can grandparents bridge such a wide gap to connect with their grandkids?
I suspect you are talking about communications and, yes, it is different from when we were raising our own children. But in some ways it makes it a bit easier. Having FaceTime and Skype allows us at distances to connect with them, and if you plan it correctly, you can have a great time with that. Seeing your grandkids put on a skit for you, for example. They love to do that. And they consider that they are on TV because we can watch them and I can record them and play it back.
So in many ways technology is facilitating the ability of grandparents to connect more often with their grandchildren. But you’ve got to be on top of technology. You can’t sit back and just work with a pencil and paper if you want to connect with your grandkids.
To stay on top of it there are a number of resources available. Your cell phone carrier is willing to provide coaching. The Apple Store is tremendous for doing that. Another great way is just to sit down with your grandchild.
Let them coach you. They’ll feel terrific if they can help you come to terms with the new technology. It’s a good way to connect with them.
In your research on cultures, what have you learned about how grandparents can make a difference in our culture?
I’ve lived and worked on four continents: North America, South America, Africa and Asia, and traveled extensively in Europe and the Middle East — all very different cultures. And for each one of those cultures I saw something that I thought I would like to incorporate into the essence of who I am, that would make me a better person.
To give a couple of examples, in Asia you would never see an adult, a senior, a grandparent, yell or raise their voice. Their common influence is they are viewed as the center of wisdom. And you want to try to establish that important role with your grandkids in the right occasions. In America, it’s just the opposite. It’s having fun, expressing love openly, hugging your children all the time.
In that regard, you say that grandparents can be an emotional rock for their grandkids. Why is that so important and what are some ways they can accomplish that?
That’s a good question. Children are faced with the challenges of dealing with their peers in a school environment or on a playground, and kids can sometimes be pretty brutal. The last thing in the world a child wants to do is to go to their parents and tell their parent that their best friend has been mean. They don’t want their parents to look down on their buddies.
But it is different with a grandparent. They can be quite open and express these kinds of issues — as long as we are not judgmental about the issues and the people they are dealing with, but are understanding of how that child is reacting and help them better understand why a child is being mean to them or excluding them. We all had experiences when we were growing up that might be different, but where they touched us emotionally isn’t any different. So sharing those stories with your grandchild when they are in a similar situation immediately provides credibility that you do understand what they are going through.
What part of being a grandparent moves or affects you the most?
Encouraging the creativeness of my grandchildren gives me the best joy. I have sketchbooks everywhere for them to draw, and to create and put on plays. My one granddaughter is now writing, playing and singing music. This is a gap in many schools, so this is a role for me as a grandparent. Creativity can be many things. It’s not only the arts. For other families it might be working on a car. Focusing on their creativity helps them be creative problem-solvers in life.
Do you ever make it across the state to our area?
Many years ago my brother lived in Fort Lauderdale. They have one daughter who I have always been very close to, so I would always make an effort to swing by Fort Lauderdale to spend time with my niece, and I have fond memories of that. One time we were out sailing and her dog falls overboard. I dive into the water, thinking I am saving the dog. I was the hero for my niece that day. My brother thought I was insane — he thought the water was filled with barracuda.
What is the No. 1 thing being a grandparent has taught you about what it means to be a grandparent?
Dedicating my time and efforts to my granddaughter who had a terminal illness made me view being a grandparent differently than I had before. Previously I considered my role to be a good friend and a lot of fun to be with — someone they could speak with. And I still maintain that. But then it shifts dramatically when a child has a disorder, in this case a terminal disease, where the entire love and affection, dedication, is to find a solution for that child.
We have always been there for our kids, and we’ve always considered our role to be to make the bad things go away. That happened big time with our granddaughter. We certainly made that effort, and not being able to achieve that in her case made me also realize that you don’t always have to find a solution. It’s the love behind the effort. And I can sit back very proudly knowing that I made every effort and it was driven by love, and I was so happy to be able to do that.