A special duet by Grampsy & DCG Founder Allan Shedlin and his granddaughter Casey
I always knew I wanted to honor my Gramps in a special way. He is my go-to call, a person who I trust with my hardest decisions, and someone who I feel knows me to my core and understands the person I am and want to be.
As I’ve continued to move around the country to pursue new and old dreams, I’ve asked and appreciated his council every step of the way. I wanted a way to commemorate his playing such a crucial role in my life and to have him be literally and figuratively with me always. So I decided I would honor him with a tattoo someday. But that became even more special when we decided to get matching tattoos together.
We decided on our signature sign off: “ILYM.”
Now Gramps will always be with me, even as we are far away from one another in distance, but not in heart. I can look down at his handwriting on my body, and know he and his love are forever with me – in mind, spirit, and body.
* * *
Over the years, the well-meaning admonitions have flowed in like the remnants of waves that lap at the shore before they slide back to the sea: “You shouldn’t wear your heart on your sleeve.”
This advice has always arrived unbidden by protective friends and acquaintances concerned that showing my feelings too readily would leave me vulnerable to disappointment or hurt. And while that was often the stated intent, there also seemed to be an underlying sense that showing feelings and vulnerability was somehow a feminine trait, a sign of softness – not something that “real men” stereotypically did.
For me, being mostly transparent about my feelings has served me well in my work with children and youth and even with a variety of adults. It has been more authentic to be clear about my feelings than to squelch them – especially those that came directly from my heart.
And so, as an embrace of the value of allowing my positive (and negative) emotions to show, to not shy away from the humanity of emotional vulnerability, I decided to go beyond wearing my heart on my sleeve.
I rolled up my sleeve instead and tattooed my heart directly on my arm.
When I mentioned this to my eldest grandchild, Casey, who has recently begun her career as a clinical social worker, she informed me she had been thinking for awhile about finding a way of having something of me with her for the rest of her life. And so, we decided to create matching tattoos.
But, as a young woman beginning her career, knowing that there are often assumptions made about people with tattoos (though the stigma has decreased steadily in the last few years as more and more people are getting “inked”), we decided to create a partial match. I proudly elected to wear my heart on my arm with four letters written in Casey’s hand, she decided to have those same four letters – written in my hand – tattooed in a less conspicuous place, her foot.
The four letters have become our signature sign-off in texts and hand-written communications we continue to exchange: “ILYM.” They stand for “I love you more,” our faux competition.
Of course, it might be worth considering if we’d be in a better place as global citizens, if we were a little more willing to acknowledge our vulnerabilities, to “wear our hearts on our sleeves.”
Or even tattoo them on our arms.
Casey Berkowitz, MSW, is a master’s level clinician who is dedicated to supporting children, teens, and parents to achieve their goals. At NCFWC, Casey co-leads the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational skills (PEERS) group for ages 12-17 that aims to provide evidence-based social skills for adolescents with social difficulties. She also provides outpatient therapy to children and teens with a focus on anxiety, depression, OCD, behavior disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and ADHD. Casey earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Brown University and her Master of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she worked at the UNC Child and Adolescent Outpatient Unit. She has experience working in a number of mental health settings including schools, partial hospitalization programs, in-home therapy programs, crisis work, community settings, and outpatient therapy clinics. She is currently pursuing her certification in Parent Child Interaction Therapy for ages 2-7 and their families that aims to improve the quality of parent-child relationships to support children with emotional and behavior struggles.
Allan Shedlin (aka Grampsy or Gramps) has devoted his life's work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.