There is a line often attributed to an unknown Chinese source: "May you live in interesting times."
And we do.
A very strange man lives in the White House. Another scary guy far away plays with nuclear missiles as if they were sparklers. The Arctic is melting. Oh, and Congress is in session. Oh boy. No good is likely to come from any of this.
It is easy to fall into a cynical malaise from all the headlines of men behaving badly, ethnic cleansing and an endless cycle of war.
And then baby Nathan arrives with his chubby cheeks, Mona Lisa smile and strawberry blond hair. We have become first-time grandparents, or as they say in Greek, Yia Yia and Papou.
Nathan arrived precisely on his scheduled due date of Dec. 1. He could have a career as a reporter, having demonstrated a respect for deadlines.
This grandparent thing is going to take some getting used to. It seems like only yesterday Sky King the Elder was busily slamming doors in teenage fits of pique. And now he and his wife, Mallory, have welcomed a new life into this world.
I came to parenting relatively late in life. I had no clue what I was doing. Just between us, I still donít. I have learned that raising children pretty much involves making it up as you go along. Having plenty of patience helps, too. Lots of patience.
Both my grandfathers were long departed by the time I arrived. I grew up with very few older men in my life. At least Nathan gets a properly aged old coot in me.
What can I offer this boy? I donít fish, or hunt, or (please, really now) camp.
I canít throw a ball. Blame it on the nuns who forced a lefty to be a righty. Whatís all that stuff under the hood of a car? Beats me. Introduce him to golf and consign him to a lifetime of misery, frustration and helplessness? Isnít that child abuse? I donít have any discernible hobbies, unless you count cocktail hour. It is probably a bit too soon to pass along the proper preparation of an Old Fashioned.
Ultimately, I suppose my role as a newbie Papou is to be the dispenser of sage advice, passing along the accumulation of a lifetime of wizened worldly experience, which in my case probably begins and ends with: Never bet on a horse that hasnít run in the last 30 days.
In a sense, though, my work as a grandparent already has been accomplished. He may not know it yet, but the Bombshell of the Balkans and I have given him a decent, hardworking, intelligent, successful father who had the good sense to marry a wonderful woman. Can you ask for much more than that?
Although he has been with us a short time, in his own way, Nathan is teaching us more than we can return to him.
The world is certainly a mess, ruled over and controlled by people who were once (yes, it is hard to believe) babies, too. And letís not dwell too much on that imagery, lest we be reminded that some tots never seem to grow up, especially the ones in Washington and Moscow.
Even for a jaded, elderly scribbler, the arrival of a new infant like Nathan gives pause for a chance of renewed hope. He and his friends in the maternity ward are all mulligans for civilization, representing the opportunity to maybe someday get things right.
How does anyone know if theyíve succeeded as a parent or a grandparent? Iím not sure.
I do know, though, that more than 40 years after he passed away, my father still exerts enormous influence over my life in terms of the values he instilled in me, his sense of right and wrong and the importance of loyalty. And yes, he also taught me how make a martini. Life skills, life skills.
Master Nathan will benefit, as well, from his parents on the merits of a life well lived. Heís a lucky boy. He has a bright future.
It should be noted Nathan was born in Hong Kong. And just in case the issue arises some 40 years or so down the road when he announces his campaign for the presidency, he is an American citizen.
Nathanís parents are starting a new chapter in their lives, their marriage. They, too, will probably figure things out as they go along. They really donít need any advice from me.
Well, maybe except for one thing based on past experience. Always make sure Nathanís bedroom door has strong hinges.