Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's In A Name?

Recently Jaimee posted that Lily has taken to calling Jason "Dada" even though Jaimee refers to him as "Jason" when she talks to Lily. Jaimee wondered if Lily calls Jason "Dada" because she hears Jaimison call him "Dad". I'm thinking Lily is so smart, she probably wonders why Jaimee calls Dada "Jason". I truly believe children know when they belong with someone...and it has nothing to do with biology.

When I read Jaimee's blog, I was filled with the emotion that only a person who grew up in a splintered family could feel. For most of my early life, from age 6 on, I was the book-worm child that didn't fit in. I often felt (and I know rightly so) that I was not wanted by my stepfather Andy (father of my two younger sisters) nor by my stepmother June (who had her own "only child" daughter that she put on a pedestal), and so I lived in my own lonely little world. I called my step-parents Andy and June if I called them by name, which I seldom did, and always felt the sting of being the outsider when my sisters climbed on their "Daddy's" lap or my stepsister asked her "Mama" to braid her hair. I'm sure I put on a worldly air and pretended not to care, but I knew I never would be a real member of those families.

While I was living unhappily with my father and June at age 14, my mother met and married a man named John. I barely knew John when I returned to live with my mother and him at age 16. Looking back, I would not think a life-long bachelor like John could so easily become a father to three girls, but somehow he made a transistion not to step-fatherhood, but fatherhood. Cindy, Becky and I called him Dad simply because that's what seemed natural, and when I had three daughters he was the Grandpa the girls followed around and adored. Especially the two littlest, whom "Gwapa" babysat from 8 am to 3 pm on Tuesday and Thursday so I didn't have to drop out of college. He did this despite the fact that on Mon, Wed, and Friday he endured 8 long hours of kidney dialysis due to full kidney failure.

"Mixed" marriages weren't as common back then as they are now. Dad, as you can see, was Japanese. His granddaughters, as you can also see, were not. He told me once he got a kick out of the reaction people had as the girls led him through the Safeway store picking out gwapes for Gwapa and whoa-whoas and nem-a-nems (Rollos and M&Ms) for themselves. Their routine was to first drive to the magic money box (ATM) where Grandpa always had the patience to let them push the buttons to get out a $20 bill, no matter how long it took or how many pissed off people piled up behind them. Then on to Safeway for their shopping binge, two little grandkids who held their Grandpa's hand tightly and never noticed that they looked a little different than he did.

My advice to parents who are creating new families where there are young children involved is to let the children feel like they are part of the family by calling the step-parent Mom or Dad if they are at all inclined. It does not take away from the parent-child bond if one child has two people who share the same title. It just allows the child to feel a little more safer in their world, and after all, "Mom" or "Dad" or even "Gwapa" is more than a name, it's a duty bestowed upon you and it's not for the weak at heart.

1 comment:

  1. Once somebody mentioned something about the Japanese in passing and I mentioned that my grandfather was Japanese, at which point the person I was talking to told me they could "totally see it" as they peered at my face.