Just Don’t Call Me Mr. Rob
Back in my day, things were different. I never thought I would start off a blog post by saying that… I grew up straddling Generation X and Y, so I can proudly claim to be a member of both the hackers and slackers. We’re also the ones who are supposed to be too apathetic about life because we never really rebelled against our parents. Well now that I’m a parent, I’m turning against my own kind and am starting a my own revolution. My cause: Resurrecting the use of formal titles.
Though my two-year-old daughter Rachel has many play pals, not one of them calls me Mr. Sachs. And before I get all sanctimonious about this let me admit, I’m guilty here as well. In my circle of parent friends, we’re telling our kids to address not only their friends, but also the parents by their first names. The practice didn’t strike me as odd until only recently when Rachel went off to summer camp for the first time. There, the instructor’s name was completely up for grabs. She was a woman in her early fifties with over a quarter decade of teaching experience, yet a good number of the kids called her by her first name, Catherine. It didn’t seem respectful enough so I thought perhaps we should tell Rachel to call her “Teacher Catherine.” But after mulling it over, we decided that didn’t feel right either. “The teacher’s name is Mrs. Denton,” we finally declared.
That’s not to say other parents didn’t come up with their own solution to this formality conundrum; quite a few kids called the teacher “Miss Catherine.” I’m encountering this hybrid formality more and more as it seems to be gaining popularity as a compromise title for kids to use with adults. But being called Mr. Rob sounds wrong to me, and it sounds even more backwards when I hear someone call my wife Miss Anna. A part of me feels like this naming device should have died out the same time Gone with the Wind ended its theatrical run.
But I can understand why some parents use Miss First Name. They’re trying desperately to hold on to formality, without being too formal. Of course, other languages like French or Spanish use completely different verb tenses to distinguish between the familiar and the formal. The only thing we English speakers have is our titles, and when we give those up, perhaps we’re giving up too much. I’m not the only one who’s worried about this. In my latest podcast I discussed this dilemma with my friend, mommy blogger Sarah Maizes. She told me, “When all the kids you know call you Sarah you lose a level of respect and it really bums me out. We’re no longer seen as this older generation that deserves the respect that we had to give our parents.”
But let’s not blame this one entirely on the kids, who will pretty much call you whatever you tell them to. It’s when you don’t say anything that things get tricky. Sarah pointed out how she’s often addressed as “Ben’s Mom” because the kids themselves don’t know what else to say. Since titles are no longer a given, it’s up to each adult to tell kids how they should be addressed. But this is precisely the problem. Won’t I look like a jerk if I’m the one guy demanding a stricter formality when no one else is? Could be – but then again can you really be a counter revolutionist if you’re worried about seeming like a jerk?
Perhaps a friendlier solution for now would be to request that my friends make me and my wife a part of their extended family. I’ll take Uncle Rob over Mr. Rob any day. Certainly Aunt Anna sounds much sweeter to me than Miss Anna. And if the kid’s parents aren’t close enough to consider us part of their honorary brood – well then Mr. and Mrs. Sachs works just fine.