Life Lessons from My Grandfather

I’ve been waiting eagerly for Father’s Day to arrive this year. Even before I had this blog in place, I wanted to share some lessons from one of my favorite people I’ve ever known, my grandfather. When I think about living a life of plenty, it includes the great, loving relationships I’ve had with people in my life, not simply saving or earning more money. My maternal grandfather was one of those people whose presence in my life I will always treasure. He lived his life in a way that left a lasting impression on mine.



My grandfather Douglas arrived in the United States from China as a young teenager in the 1920s. He first enrolled in middle school in Palo Alto, California, where he began to learn English, and then went on to complete high school. One of his first jobs was as domestic help for a rich family on the Peninsula. He later served our country in World War II. One of his roles was to keep watch over New York Harbor for Nazi ships and submarines.

After WWII, he married and settled down here in San Francisco, where he passed the years working and raising his family. My grandfather was a father of four and grandfather to nine grandchildren.

My earliest memories of my grandfather are from when I was just a few years old. My grandparents took care of me while my parents worked, so I spent a lot of time at their house. I passed my afternoons playing with my cousins under his care and many evenings eating the delicious dinners he and my grandmother prepared. Even now, when I think back to those childhood moments with him, I feel very loved and special to him. I wish every child could have that same feeling about their grandparents.

I was lucky to have many great years with my grandfather until he passed away when I was a teenager. During those years, he taught me several life lessons that I hope to follow and pass on to my family.


Work hard

My grandfather worked hard all his life. He was a bartender, often working two jobs 6-7 days a week for most of his adult life. He didn’t take vacations either because paid time off didn’t exist for him. Not working meant not getting paid. He didn’t complain about it though. The long hours and hard work were necessary to provide for his family. My mother and her siblings were not wealthy by any means, but they always had food on their table and a roof over their heads.

I knew my grandfather as a retiree, and he was still as hard working and independent as ever. He would spend hours in the backyard pulling up weeds and trimming trees. Even after he had a stroke that left him hemiplegic, he still managed to walk to nearby shops to buy groceries, albeit slower, and figured out how to peel oranges with one hand. My grandfather wanted to do as much as he could for himself no matter his health or his age.


Make time for your family

Besides working hard, my grandfather took good care of his family. When my mom and her siblings were young, he’d spend his days off with them and cook them their favorite meals. He was a great cook too! He could whip up a delicious fried chicken, spaghetti, and steamed fish.

He also took care of my mom and her siblings when they were sick. My mom recalls that one time when she was very ill, he carried her on his back to go see the doctor. My mom was not a skinny minny either.

My grandfather always looked out for me too. I’d frequently arrive at his house to find fresh mangos and other fruits waiting for me. He thought of me when he went grocery shopping and bought my favorite fruits to surprise me. When I was a child, he would tell me once I got into high school, I should come over in the afternoons so that he could teach me how to cook. While we didn’t manage to do that, he always had family on his mind and did whatever he could to better our lives.


Be calm and patient

I like to joke that in his older years, my grandfather probably came across as a grumpy old man to everyone but me. I was oblivious to any grouchiness or stubbornness because he was always calm and patient with me.

When I was about five, I sat at the dinner table unsure if I had anything to drink in my cup. Instead of gently moving it around, I flipped it over and the clear soda spilled out all over the table. My mother was furious, but my grandfather just told me to get another drink. He didn’t get mad at me then or when I drew on the walls. Then there was the time that I spilled water all over the floor transporting it between the bathroom sink and my plastic play kitchen. My grandmother had a fit, but my grandfather accepted it as children having fun.

Despite the havoc I created, I can’t remember my grandfather ever raising his voice even once at me. When I am a grandparent one day, I’ll leave the disciplining to the parents and try to be the calm, patient, doting grandmother as my grandfather was with me.


Be smart with money

My grandfather worked hard as a bartender for not much pay. Still, he was smart with his money. He spent only on necessities and saved whatever he could. He didn’t have a credit card in his entire life, nor did he believe in buying on credit. He always said that if you don’t have the money for something, then you don’t buy it.

By the 1970s, he had saved enough to buy a beautiful home for his family. That home is the site of some my most cherished childhood memories. We still hold our family Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations together there. Family and friends can stay there too, when they visit from out of town. My grandfather probably couldn’t have imagined how much a role this house would play in our lives when he bought it. We have him to thank for our family home.


Ignore the negatives in life

You might have a laugh about this one. In my grandmother’s later years, she became a nonstop talker.  She talked and talked about anything and everything on her mind. It didn’t matter if anyone was listening, she just kept talking.

Well, my grandfather got tired of all her talking. I don’t think it’s smart to ignore your family members, but I think my grandfather had good reason to because my grandmother shared made-up stories and gossip. Whether he feigned that he could not hear or he was actually losing his hearing (I think a bit of both), he did a good job of ignoring all the jibber-jabber around him. He kept on with his activities and his day without letting my grandmother get in his way.

I took from that experience that it’s best to tune out all the distractions and negativity that you can in life. Let others do what they will. Focus your own time and attention on what you want to get done.  


As I reflect on my grandfather’s role in my life this weekend, I want to wish every father (and everyone who fills a fatherly role) a wonderful Father’s Day. You are a meaningful part of our lives, maybe more than you even know or ever hear. Enjoy your day!


How have your fathers or grandfathers given you a more plentiful life? What are some life lessons that you learned from them and now carry on?

Life Lessons from My Grandfather