For instance, I remember being hit for saying, "But she said I could." This was no Three Stooges-style slap. He whomped me, and reprimanded: "Your mother is not 'she.' Or 'her.' She is your mother."
As recently as five years ago (when I wrote that original article), I didn't understand this. Then, at a company Christmas party, I stood by as a man discussed his teenage daughter in the third-person. She was standing right next to him, squirming, reduced to a bit player in an anecdote intended to impress a coworker. I saw him do it again later, and then again with his other kid. He spoke of his children as if they were dogs.
Maybe my father saw another man do this with his wife, and refused to let us be so arrogant, so demeaning. Or maybe this is just how he was raised: Manners take root at home.
-- "The Old Man on New Year's Eve," New York Press, Jan 11, 04
Whenever we referred to Mom as "she," my dad would snap, "Who's 'she'? The cat's mother?" I have no idea exactly what he was trying to convey with that, but the general message was clear: respect your family members. Refer to them by name.
Incidentally, my dad once grounded me at age 10 after hearing me tell a neighbor, "I don't know if I can come and play. Let me ask my old lady." Message received: respect your family members. To this day, I cringe if I hear anyone refer to their parents or their spouses as "my old man" or "my old lady."
I bring this up because writer Jeff Koyen's father was a year younger than mine would have been. We have the artifacts of a generation in common. And while I was completely unable to write what my dad was to me mere days after he died -- and still am unable, nearly four years after the fact, although I'm still far too able to tear up every time I try -- Mr. Koyen was.
Lucky for us. Read this. It goes beyond an individual narrative, and frames the way we relate to the people who raised us.