Parentless Parents: Teaching My Daughter About The Grandfather She Never Knew

My dad thought these lessons were important for me to learn, and they are now important for me to share with my daughter.
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I took my eight-year-old daughter to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City yesterday, and I'm still in an awesome mood. The art was great, of course. She enjoyed looking at the Pollock's, Picasso's and Warhol's. But the real takeaway was what she learned about my father, her grandfather, the one grandpa she never met.

My father went to museums as often as other dads might go to football games. Every day before going to work, he'd spend his mornings scouring The New York Times for the latest exhibitions, and he'd circle the most promising for later exploration. It was like a sport to him in every way: The hunt. The find. And later, the glory of achievement when he actually went to the event that had most inspired him.

My daughter and I went through the museum without a plan or map. We wandered, and that gave me time to tell her stories, the ones that had little to do with the art we were looking at on the walls, and the ones that I really wanted her to know. Yes, we discussed the importance of Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and the fact that Ad Reinhardt's black-on-black paintings are, indeed, art.

But she also learned that Grandpa Sidney thought every child should know the difference between modernism and cubism, and that every child, especially his daughter, should know at first glace and without hesitation, the difference between a Monet and a Mondrian. This knowledge is important, he said, because being able to speak intelligently about art is what separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. (My dad was never one to beat around the bush).

My dad thought these lessons were important for me to learn, and they are now important for me to share with my daughter. My dad would have loved nothing more than to take his granddaughter to the MoMA, but he died before she was born. It's now my job to pick-up where he left off. It's up to me to keep his memory alive through art, and I do so with joy, love, and gratitude.

Allison Gilbert's new book "Parentless Parents: How the Loss of Our Mothers and Fathers Impacts the Way We Raise Our Children" comes out nationwide on Tuesday, February 15, 2011. Learn more at