Gregory’s life story hasn’t exactly been a fairy tale.

Oh, it started out pretty “Once upon a time”-ish: lovely, sweet Mommy meets handsome, dashing Daddy. They date, fall in love and eventually marry. Sixteen months later, along comes bouncing baby Stephen. Then Gregory. Then Benjamin. Then David.

The family wasn’t wealthy, but they were comfortable and secure. Life was good.

But somewhere along the way to “happily ever after,” Gregory’s handsome, dashing prince of a Daddy turned into a frog. You know the story: late hours at work, blah-blah, lonely secretary, blah-blah, extended business trips, blah-blah, “I never really loved you,” blah-blah-blah. “When is Daddy coming home?”

The divorce was brutal — especially for little boys for whom the only D-word that really mattered was "Daddy." They didn’t understand the degenerating dynamics of their parents’ marriage. To tell the truth, they didn’t care. All they knew was that they loved their father, and they wanted to play and wrestle with him like they used to. But as time went on, those fun times came less frequently. Soon after the divorce was final, he faded out of their lives entirely.

Receiving only occasional child support and possessing no marketable work skills, Gregory’s mother had no choice but to move in with her parents while she sorted through the pieces of her shattered life. Gregory’s grandparents were not well off financially, but their hearts were full of love, and their home provided a safe harbor for a fractured family that was enduring a devastating emotional storm.

Slowly, the healing began. Grandma and Grandpa offered security, shelter and three square meals a day. They counseled with their daughter, told stories to their grandsons, and laughed and cried at the appropriate moments. And Gregory’s Uncle Rob, who also lived in the home, provided all the roughhousing, ball throwing and piggyback riding the boys could handle.

Traditional family? Not quite. But a family nonetheless.

One night, about a year after the divorce, Gregory’s mother was telling her sons a bedtime story. “Once upon a time,” she began, “there were three bears: a Papa Bear, a Mama Bear and a Baby Bear.”

“What about a Gramma Bear?” 4-year-old Gregory wanted to know.

“OK,” his mother replied. “There was a Gramma Bear.”

“And a Grampa Bear?” Gregory pressed.

“That’s right — a Grampa Bear,” his mother allowed.

“And an Uncle Rob Bear,” Gregory added. “There has to be an Uncle Rob Bear.”

“Of course, Sweetheart — every family needs an Uncle Rob Bear, too.”

“Uh-huh,” Gregory said. “For when Papa Bear goes away.”

Unfortunately, we live in a world in which more and more Baby Bears have to face the daily reality of life without Papa Bear. Or Mama Bear. Or, in some cases, both. That’s why we can all be thankful that there are so many Grammas and Grampas and Uncle Robs out there, extending themselves to at-risk children — and to their parents. They supply comfort, peace, love and acceptance at the very times those precious commodities are most lacking.

And most needed.

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Though few would argue that such multi-generational child-raising is ideal, it does have its advantages. And when members of extended families reach out to one another during times of stress and crisis, it teaches life-changing lessons about love, loyalty and what it really means to be part of a family.

Even when the family fairy tale turns into a nightmare, and Prince Daddy — or Princess Mommy — turns into a frog.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit Twitter: JoeWalkerSr