Recently, I received a children’s book, Bringing Up Grandpa by Brian Withers.

Recently, I received a children’s book, Bringing Up Grandpa by Brian Withers.  

The book is dedicated to his grandson and the boy’s parents.  What’s especially charming is that the book depicts the author as a walking baby boy wearing diapers.  The pictures are by the author’s father, included in letters from the European front during World War II.  

The man was an accomplished illustrator who published in a number of magazines.  He missed his wife and the son he had never seen, so he imagined their activities in the cartoons.  

Most notable is the fact that he imagines his young son leading his wife on quite a chase through the house—a fact that the Withers confirms.  He was ruling the house while he grew.

The last panel shows the soldier’s expected return to his wife and son.  Significantly, the baby boy in diapers is now big enough to be holding his mother in his arms, as she reaches for her husband.

It was entirely appropriate that the day after the book arrived, my own young ruler would come to visit.  Nora (Adora), “almost 6,” was going to help me grow.

She began at the library, serving her father and me from the toy kitchen. Nora and a new friend prepared, cooked, and brought us bowls brimming with plastic fruit and vegetables.  Thank you very much.

Each morning, I was awakened at 7 something by a smiling elf who said “Papa!”  (That’s my name; my son is Daddy or, sometimes Papa too.). Before I was fully awake and caffeinated, I had lost at least two games, each of which had special rules—checkers and foosball or table soccer.

One of the special rules of the latter was that when a ball was dead—between two men, neither able to reach it—that ball became a goal shot, set up by her men closest to my goal.  Often the ball would be placed before I had time to position my goalie and two defenders.  A little laugh would follow a score, sometimes an uncalled-for victory dance.  

Finally, Nora got tired of my weak defense and declared she would play both sides of the table, goal shots at each end.  I went in the living room to read and she announced the score regularly, “5 to 4, you’re still behind!”  I lost each time, but my scores were more respectable.

What did I learn?

Sometimes special rules are needed for the enjoyment of all.  Nora couldn’t quite reach all four paddle controls and I had to teach her how to smash the ball by completely flipping the paddle.  So, ok, place the ball where you will.  And if you decide to do goal shots for both sides, that’s fine too.  I’ll trust you to make truthful reports of the score.

Forgive me for saying so, but it struck me that playing change-rule games with a five-year-old (“almost 6”) was a lot more satisfying and predictable than the games played with laws, executive orders, and impulsive tweets on the national level.

Rules can bind and reduce the soul, but ignoring rules and their precedents brings nothing but unrest to the soul.

Nora left me a wonderful picture:  Her family hand-in-hand, all smiles, hearts and smiles on her dress, in sunshine and rain.  Rules change, people change, but love should be the spirit that binds us together.

We should work to embody that spirit in every New Year, in every New Day.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at