The Truth, Mainly - 09/27/1993

His Magnificence gets no respect
by Leon Satterfield

"Arrgh," I say to my wife over the Sunday paper.

"Did something you read make you say 'Arrgh'?" she asks, neatly putting her question mark between the single quotation mark and the double quotation mark, exactly where it's supposed to go when the outside quote is a question but the inside quote is not. "Or is the dog making offensive emissions again?"

"Something I read," I say in great anguish. "Arrgh."

This time, I bang myself on the forehead with the heel of my palm.

"Oh," she says, and goes back to her crossword puzzle.

"Don't you even want to know why I bang my forehead and say 'Arrgh'?" I ask.

"Nice question mark placement," she says. "OK—what did you read?"

"This," I say, pointing to John Rosemond's column on child-rearing. "He says you shouldn't let your kids call adults by their first names. We let our kids call everybody by their first names. We did it all wrong. Arrgh."

"It seemed like a friendly thing to do," she says. "Why does John Rosemond have a knot in his shorts about that?"

"He says it makes kids disrespectful to adults," I say. "We've been bad parents. We've allowed our kids to become disrespectful to adults."

"Our kids are adults," she says. "We can't do anything about it now."

"But the grandbabies," I say. "It's not too late to teach them to respect adults."

"Not our job," she says. "I'm a laissez-faire grandma. You ought to be a laissez-faire grandpa too, even when their diapers don't need changing."

"We could encourage their adult friends to do what John Rosemond says he does," I say. "When little kids call him 'John,' he says 'It's Mr. Rosemond to you. When you're older and wise, you can call me John.'"

"That doesn't seem very friendly," she says. "I don't think our grandbabies would work up much respect for adults who told them that."

"He says it in a 'semihumorous tone,'" I say, "so that the child gets the point 'without feeling let down.'"

She snorts.

"Our kids would've found it wholly humorous if any of your scuzzy friends had talked to them that way," she says. "They'd have laughed in their faces. So would I."

"God knows I tried to instill respect for adults in them," I say. "I told them not to beg for more gruel until the big people were finished. I told them to take off their little hats, tug their little forelocks and shuffle their little feet in the presence of our friends. I made them sing 'O my Papa, to me you are so wonderful' before I gave them cookies. But I let them call adults by their first names. How could I, their own father, the patriarch, the alpha wolf, have been so blind?"

"You're blameless," she says. "You even told them to address you as 'Your Blinding Magnificence.'"

"I've forgotten," I say. "How did they react to that?"

"They laughed in your face," she says, "and called you a Befuddled Old Offensive Emission."

"Now I remember," I say. "And you laughed too."

"What could I do?" she says. "They were children of the Sixties. Besides, I taught them to say it. It was fun. If I weren't a laissez-faire grandma, I'd teach the grandbabies to say it too."

"Sure," I say. "Undermine discipline. Subvert the natural order. Promote anarchy."

"Freedom now," she says. "Power corrupts. Question authority. I can talk in slogans as well as you and John Rosemond can."

"Look," I say. "John Rosemond is a psychologist. He must know about things like this."

"If he thinks you get a little kid's respect by making him call you mister," she says, "he confuses appearance and reality. He may also think a new paint job makes a car run better."

"But he's a columnist," I say. "He couldn't be a columnist if he didn't know a lot. Could he?"

She snorts again. Louder.

"I've known columnists who didn't know diddly-squat," she says. "I've known one of them very well."

"Okay, Miss Smarty-Pants," I say. "If the younger generation isn't going all to hell because they call adults by their first names, why are they going all to hell?"

"Because," she says, "they don't know where to put the question mark on quotes inside of other quotes. Sound the alarm! Appoint a committee of control freaks! Write letters to the editor!"

She's got a bad streak of sarcastic insubordination in her. It's not surprising though. She still calls her parents' friends by their first names.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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