What’s in a name? More than I really thought!

How many ways can you say old?

I recently found out that I was going to be a grandfather for the first time. This was, and is still, a great piece of news. With our daughter, Christa at 30 years of age and our son, Ian, at 28, we were certainly ready for the news. Nevertheless, it marks the symbolic transition from middle-age to being something else – old….

Now don’t get me wrong! I don’t harbour any illusions of still being a young man. On the other hand, at 58, I am not yet ready to lay down and play dead. In fact, I feel as if I am in better shape and health than I have been at any other time of my life. I don’t feel old and I don’t want my subconscious to succumb to all the subliminal messages and labels that abound in our society. Mind you, we have several trail-blazers in our family that prove that the traditional rules don’t apply here! My brother was a grandfather at 35 and my mother a great-grandmother at around 55! At 84, she has more great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren than she can keep track of and her hair is still naturally blond, not grey!

If it is true that you are only as old as you feel, then the real problem lies in the fact that the idea of being called granddad, or any derivative thereof, makes me FEEL old! In a tongue in cheek message on Facebook to announce the news to our friends, Dorothy posed the question whether grandma or nanny sounded better. My immediate response was NEITHER! Not that I personally ever doubted it, but this was further proof of the differences between the sexes. Dorothy rightfully sees the title of grandmother as something to look forward to and be proud of. My personal history, however, leads me to have a different view of relationship labels.

The standard viewpoint seems to be that calling people by a specific name or title infers deference or respect. In some cases, this is undoubtedly true. However, I am of the firm belief that age, social standing or birthright do not, per se, accord any special status until it is earned through word or deed. Many would maintain that I should respect my father simply because he IS my father. Why should I accord respect to someone who abandoned his wife and five children after having dragged them through the ignominy of bankruptcy proceedings on multiple occasions. My mother, on the other hand, for whom I have the utmost respect because she earned it day after day, preferred that I call her by her given name of Daphne, something I have done since my early teen years.

The common use of the terms ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ to refer to an adult that is a friend of the family is another custom that I find to be both awkward, misleading and occasionally embarassing. It is totally unnecessary, in my view, to use these misnomers to represent or misrepresent the status of a given individual.

So, you can perhaps begin to see why I am more than a little troubled by the term grandfather or any derivative thereof. When I looked in the ‘Freethaurus’ I soon saw that I had good reason to be wary of the word.:

Main Entry: grandfather
Father Time, Methuselah, Nestor, Old Paar, centenarian, dotard, elder, gaffer, geezer, golden-ager, grampa, gramps, grandpa, grandsire, graybeard, great-grandfather, nonagenarian, octogenarian, old-timer, old chap, old codger, old dog, old duffer, old geezer, old gent, old gentleman, old man, old party, older, oldster, pantaloon, patriarch, presbyter, senior citizen, septuagenarian, sexagenarian, the quiet-voiced elders, venerable sir, veteran

Now, I happen to believe that this might be overdoing things a little, but you can see that the main thrust of the word is derived from the idea that a grandfather is old.

There was a time, when our children were quite young, about 5 and 3 respectively, that they started to address my wife and I by our christian names. I believe this came about because my wife, Dorothy, ran an in-home daycare and they heard all the other kids calling us Roy & Dorothy and simply followed suit. I had no objection to this and, in fact, may even have tacitly encouraged it. Other adults were affronted and tried to convince us to forestall the habit. Eventually, they simply desisted of their own volition and made up nicknames instead(eg. Foutron, Pappers etc.)

As you can tell, I have given this subject considerable thought. If I am to have my druthers, which I sincerely doubt, I would opt for the name ‘pop’. This would be because this is what we called my own maternal grandfather, one Horace Hawkins, for whom I had the utmost respect. Although he was by no means a wealthy man, it was he who bought back our clothes and other bare necessities each time my father sank another business. His motto was: ‘I will lend you nothing. If I can afford to lend it I can afford to give it!’ I only hope that my grandchildren will have the same happy memories of me that I have of him. In any event, in the end, it is my grandchildren themselves who will decide what they call me whether I like it or not….

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