The question: My question concerns honorifics. I live in a very close-knit neighbourhood in which almost all of us know one another, socialize and/or exchange pleasantries. Recently, one of our neighbours has started to insist that his children (between the ages of two and eight) refer to the neighbourhood adults by “Mr.” or “Mrs.” This gentleman has also begun telling other people’s kids to call me (and others) “Mister.” He says that it’s a sign of respect, but I don’t like it. There’s probably a great philosophical discussion to be had as to whether respect is something earned, automatically bestowed or some combination thereof, but all of the other kids in the neighbourhood, from toddlers to teens, call me by my first name. All of my daughter’s friends call me by my first name. There’s no great cultural or professional differentiations at play here. Do I get to be called what I want people to call me, or do I have to abide by another parent’s diktat? Can he tell other people’s kids what to do?
The answer: It’s kind of amazing how quickly kids have taken to calling adults by their Christian names.
Everything’s changed so radically, at least in my world. Only a generation or two ago, I, David Eddie, would haven been the sole breadwinner, a newspaperman in dark suit, who upon arriving home would sit in my favourite chair and be served a martini by my pretty, apron-wearing wife, Pam, the air redolent with the aroma of her signature roast beef and scalloped potatoes.
My children, if I suffered them to speak to me at all, would address me as “Sir.” Pam would report their misdeeds; I would mete out punishments I deemed appropriate – harsh but fair.
My kids’ friends would call me “Mr. Eddie.” But mostly children were “seen but not heard.”
Now, an endless horde of kids goes by, each of them screaming, texting or intent on some urgent errand in their buttock-level world, and if they notice me at all will flap a hand at me or make their fingers into a little gun and “shoot” me: “Hey, Dave.”
I’m the family chef. When my kids’ friends see me at the stove, they say: “Hey, Dave, what’s for dinner?”
I like it – just being plain old Dave. I’m happy we live in an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society where everyone, including kids, feels comfortable calling each other by their first names. And I’m glad not to have to call anyone “Sir” or “Your Highness” or anything like that. Barf.
(Though I will say that in Japan they have a complex system of honorifics that can refer to one’s status in a company, one’s position in a family – they even have different “honorifics” for those accused of versus those convicted of a crime – and one’s mastery of a particular skill or art. So if people thought I was a good advice columnist, rather than plain old “David-san,” they might call me an honorific meaning “David-master-advice-giver,” and I think I could get used to that.)
Anyway, this is not about me nor, may I boldly say, even about you, pal. It’s about your neighbour trying to teach his kids good manners, so why would you want to interfere with that?
After all, how does it hurt you, really? You may even come to like it. One thing I have no reservations about saying is a huge percentage of kids these days are spoiled rotten and horribly rude, so if your friend wants his kids to speak politely to adults, my Homburg’s off to him, and yours should be too, even if he goes overboard a little.
The real danger is if you try to correct one of his kids and accidentally push your neighbour’s BAD DAD button. No one likes their parenting criticized, directly or indirectly, even by a close friend or family member, let alone a “your azaleas are really coming along”-type neighbour.
He’s definitely going overboard trying to force other people’s kids to adhere to his honorific agenda – but seriously, by the same token, why would you get mixed up in that? That’s between him, the kids and their parents. Let them sort it out – and the devil take the hindmost.
On the other hand, if he tries to force your kid to call people Mr., then you have my permission to push back. Then the shoe’s on the other foot, and he’s telling you how to raise your kid. Nix.
If you were a woman, you could correct a kid for calling you “Mrs.” instead of “Ms.”
But otherwise, I’d say your best bet is to kick back, relax and enjoy what modicum of a show of respect you can wring from these kids before they become teenagers and all bets are off.
What am I supposed to do now?
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