This is a late announcement, but as some of you know I've been out of commission for a while with health problems: On Dec. 2, my daughter-in-law, Cassie, gave birth to my fourth grandchild.
Hagan Olivia arrived without a hitch, weighing in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces.
All the grandkids have been lookers straight from the womb, but I swear, they just keep getting more beautiful with each successive child.
I can't explain it. Hagan is perfect. She's a snuggly doll, cooing and blinking and stretching and grinning. I fell in love with her the moment she was born.
She joins Harper, 4, Hadley, 3, and Hudson, 2.
The three siblings are nuts about her. Sometimes it seems that the biggest arguments they have are over who gets to love on the baby next.
At one point my son, John, caught Hadley and Hudson both crawling into the crib with — or on top of — the newborn. They wanted to be as close to her as possible.
Harper is big enough to actually help take care of the baby. One day I was sitting with the children for a couple of hours while John was at work and Cassie went to a doctor's appointment.
Hagan, who's usually placid, was restless and crying. I tried the standard cures: I fed her, changed her, bounced her lightly in my arms, walked the floor with her, talked to her. She wasn't having any of it.
Then Harper said, "Papa, can I hold her?"
I figured a 4-year-old couldn't fare any worse than I was, so I told her to sit on the sofa, where there was plenty of protective cushioning.
I placed the baby in her arms.
"Hi, little Hagan!" Harper said. "It's me!"
Hagan looked up with what appeared to be genuine recognition. Within seconds, she calmed down and started grinning. Then she nodded off to sleep.
Not only did a 4-year-old not do worse than I was doing, she did way better.
I was amazed by how gently Harper treated Hagan, and by how visibly Hagan responded to her.
But then, pretty much everything the grandchildren do is a miracle to me.
I love those four in a way I've never loved anybody. I'm hesitant to say that, because it sounds as if I love them more than, say, I loved their dad when he was a boy or more than I love my wife.
It's not about loving them more.
It's that I love them in a way I've never loved anyone else.
The grandchildren have come to me at a period different from any I've experienced before, and their position in my life is different from the positions occupied by any other people I've loved.
For instance, when John was a child I would have thrown myself in front of a train to save him. Still would, for that matter.
For 30 years, every big decision I've made has been guided by my first asking two questions: How will what I do affect John? What's best for him?
But when he was a kid, I felt a lot of pressure, too.
I was trying to get started professionally, struggling to pay bills and buy toys and put food on the table. I worried about raising John the right way, whether I could teach him to be moral and kind. I felt responsible for how he turned out. I felt it was my job to protect him from all the world's dangers.
I also expected I'd have another 50 years to enjoy him after the pressure subsided and to correct any mistakes I made along the way. In those days, I took my health and longevity, my near-immortality, for granted.
With the grandkids, everything's different.
For one thing, all the pressure is off me. It's on John and Cassie.
I'm not primarily responsible for the grandchildren's financial provision or moral instruction or even for their protection. I care about those things, and I help as much as I can. But none of it is really my job. Those loads have been lifted.
I also know that, inevitably, my time with the kids will be limited. I don't have another 50 years to share their lives.
If I'm lucky I might have 20 years or even 25—but then again, as my recent medical scare reminded me, I could leave this rocky orb tomorrow.
So what it comes down to is, I now have the freedom to do nothing but delight in and marvel over little Hagan, just as I already delight in and marvel over Harper, Hadley and Hudson.
I don't have to do the worrying; I can happily confine myself to romping, playing and acting goofy.
I also cherish every moment I spend with them, because I know our time together won't last forever. There probably won't be many do-overs on this particular adventure. Someday, maybe someday soon, I'll be gone.
All they'll have left of me is memories.
And I want those memories to be sweet.