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When a name is more than just a name

Updated: November 19, 2012 2:00PM

Have you ever had to make a family tree? If you have, be glad you’re not part of Sherri’s family with all her relatives, half-relatives, ex-relatives, and step-relatives. It may not be something Ozzie and Harriet can relate to, but for many of us, it’s Main Street, America, circa 2012.

And with all those relatives floating around, the question is: What do you call them?

Sherri has had to address this issue many times. You may need paper, a pencil with a sharpener and a good eraser to keep track. Let’s get started.

We’ll begin with Sherri’s father. “He called his mother’s second husband who raised him Dad. I called him Grandpa. He was there for my father’s birth and raised him his entire life. My father didn’t know he wasn’t his biological father and had adopted him until his teens.”

And now we move on to Sherri’s mother’s third husband. “He was in our life for 37 years before he died. We called by his first name. We grew up with our father, and my mother didn’t want us to identify with this man as a parent. He never was. He was her husband.”

And then there’s her husband’s father’s second wife. “Our nieces call her Grandma. She’s the only grandmother they’ve known. However, we find it offensive.

“This woman was his father’s mistress while he was married to my husband’s mother and indirectly the cause of the distraction which caused the fatal car accident that ended my husband’s mother’s life.”

Sherri has been married several times and has always insisted that her kids call her husbands by their first name.

“Their father is alive and it would be disrespectful for them to address anyone else as Dad.”

One of her ex-husbands disagrees. “He and the woman he married after me insisted that my children address her as Mom because my ex adopted her children and they called him Dad. This caused emotional issues for my kids and her kids. She was not my sons’ mom. I was, and I was very much in their lives.

“It also caused problems for the schools and doctors that cared for my sons because they had two people claiming to be ‘Mom.’

“This ex has again married and is again asking my sons, who are now in their late twenties, to address this woman as Mom which my sons won’t do. She’s offended and my ex has told them they’re disrespectful. It makes them very uncomfortable, and they avoid being around them.”

Now we come to Lainie’s grandson whom she’s raising because his mother is a gang member. “He’s seven-years-old and wants to call me Mommy but I encourage him to call me Granny or Grandma. He calls my husband, his step-grandfather, Papa George or just George.

“He calls my son, his father, Daddy. He calls my ex-husband Papa Paul and his wife Ms Debbie, which, in Texas, is a respectful way to address a woman. My ex and Debbie would prefer that he call her Grandma, but she’s not his grandmother, she’s my ex’s wife.

“In my opinion, a child can never have too much love or extended family. But I feel it’s a disservice to the child to force him or her into labeling a person as something they legally are not.

There are many other acceptable ways to show respect in addressing someone.”

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