Saturday, June 16, 2007

Call me Ishmael...

I am apparently throwback.-- an atavistic remnant of ancient culture.

I prefer that children call me by the honorific Mr along with my last name. I teach my children to call their elders Mr Smith, or Mrs. Smith. My children address me as Dad, or Daddy, most certainly not by my first name. When my oldest gets a little exasperated, she will revert to calling me “Father.” Although the term thus used is tinged with a certain level of sarcasm, I will let that slide a little. A little.

I once greeted a friend of mine by enthusiastically saying, “Mr K_______!” He immediately corrected me, saying, “Don’t call me that. That’s my father’s name.” I was sorry (but more than willing) to have to break the news to him. “Rick,” I says, “have you looked in the mirror lately? You just retired. You ARE Mr. K_____. You earned it. You might as well own it.”

I remember the first time a clerk in the grocery store called me “sir.” I was in my early 20’s and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. That doesn’t make me stuck up. It just means that I was more than ready to be an adult and to act like one.

At one of my daughter’s softball practices, one of her teammates came up to her father, with whom I was speaking. As she left, she said, “Right Bill…” I allowed as how I would nip that sort of thing in the bud. His response was something along the lines of “You pick your battles.” I guess that’s a battle I would pick. To name something determines a great deal of how we think of it. One could certainly make a case that there are more important things than a name. A rose by any other, and all that. Nevertheless, to assume that everything is equal and without differentiation seems a dangerous worldview. It’s a matter of respect and of viewing the world as it is.

For what it’s worth, I have made it clear to my girls that calling me Dad is not their duty. It is their privilege. No one else – NO ONE – gets to call me that except them. It is their special name for me that is reserved only for their use, and it’s use confers special privileges on them. The use of that name does not distance them from me. It actually makes us closer.

We dress for church out of respect for God. We wear suits to business meetings out of respect for our colleagues and acquaintances. We call our leader Mr. President to his face not because of him, but out of respect for the office that he fills. Adults should be addressed by children with special respect because they have earned it.

To address someone with a formal title is not an insult. We should learn to accept the honor being given. We should shed the prevailing cultural value that tells us that aging is something to be ashamed of. Every stage in life has its difficulties and its benefits. Let us learn to take the good for what it is, and own it.

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