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Raisin’ In Minnesota: He’s No Grandpa – He’s My Dad

My husband is about 10 years older than I am. He has had gray hair since I’ve known him. According to family photos, he went gray by about age 29. Never a fan of hair dye, he just left it that way. So, in my opinion he is partly responsible for the supermarket conversation I’m about to describe. Picture a 45-year-old white male, with gray hair, with a three-year-old and an infant picking up soymilk and diapers.

You know where this is going. Poor, ancient cashier has no idea what she is in for! My husband approaches with little people in tow, and the cashier beams at him, “What gorgeous grandchildren you have!” Husband’s face turns red as cashier continues, “Are you having a fun day out with grandpa?” Jenna looks curiously at the cashier and say’s “Gampa?  Where’s Gampa?”

At this point you’d assume that my husband would speak up and say he’s dad, but the cashier keeps going and says, “Your son or daughter married a colored, right?” Jeff bursts into laughter and says, “Colored? Who uses that word? What’s wrong with you? Have you no common sense? It’s the 21st century!”

Ancient cashier looks horrified, Jenna looks confused, head cashier comes over quickly to see what’s wrong and Hayden (infant) begins to wail! As Jeff recounts this tale to me, I envision ABC’s John Quinones and an episode of “What would you do?” Unfortunately, the host of the show does not appear in time to save the woman from my husband’s tongue-lashing! He proceeds to tell the head cashier that the woman is rude and racist who should mind her own business and do her job. He continues, loudly, to insist he won’t be shopping there again. The head cashier begins apologizing profusely, excuses the cashier, and finishes his purchase and asks if he would like to speak to the manager. He refuses and exits the store with the kids, in a huff.

I listen to the story and see that he is clearly angry even in the retelling of it. He seems proud that he told them off, but then he sees the look on my face and says, “What?  That doesn’t piss you off?” I said, “Actually, no. It seems the woman was merely trying to make conversation. Granted, she made a couple of wrong assumptions. Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” Jeff blinks at me and says, “It was none of her business!” I said, “True, but you missed an opportunity to educate her and ease Jenna’s confusion. As a girl who grew up without her father, I’m extremely sensitive to making sure our children feel secure in their parents’ love for them. You missed an opportunity to proudly claim your children and correct her assumptions.”

Light bulb!

He got it, he laughed and said, “I was so busy being offended that she thought I was too old to have young children or to marry a black woman that I forgot to answer Jenna’s question about where gampa was!” I hugged him and told him that his gray hair didn’t help the situation.  Jeff shook his head and said, “That poor cashier.  I will have to apologize, and introduce her to my children.” We laughed long and hard about that one and I occasionally call him Gramps.

To me this woman was a product of her era and she was honestly trying to connect with her customer no matter how clumsily. Not every question about race is racist. Heck, the older people in my family still say “colored.” To be fair I wasn’t there and no one was calling me old. So, I understand Jeff was annoyed.

Has this ever happened to you? Were you were so busy being offended that you failed to actually address the questions before you? People are often flustered by situations they can’t decipher, but we all make assumptions. Do you go off or educate? Do you react differently when your children are watching?

FYI, we still shop at the store and the cashier smiles when she sees us and has been known to sneak the girls lollipops.

More From GEM:

Raisin’ In Minnesota: The Color Of Discipline

Tandem Tantrums: Blending A Family

Our Story Begins: But Dad, Just LISTEN!

Hillery Smith Shay, is a proven leader in Visual Communications and New Media Marketing. She holds a MBA, from Bethel University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Haverford College. Shay is an award-winning photographer who has worked for the Associated Press and various newspapers. Hillery resides in West Saint Paul with her husband Jeff and their daughters Jenna and Hayden. She is also the proud stepmother of Erin, Ginger and Jack. Read more about her at hilleryshay.com and follow her Twitter @crazphotochick.

4 Comments

  1. Victor

    April 26, 2012 at 9:52 am

    My wife and I waited to have kids, then had a lot of them. I’m 55 and my youngest is five, and I understand exactly what this man’s going through. When I go to the elementary school to pick up the kids, I’m either surrounded by grandparents or twentysomething parents, so I’m the odd one out. Even the kids get it from their peers: “Your grandpa is out front.”

    All you can do is be patient with those around you. And as a parent (NOT grandparent!) of biracial children, I assure you my wife and I have heard all sorts of nonsense. But that’s a topic for another blog….

  2. Whitney Eiland

    April 26, 2012 at 11:09 am

    My ex-husband used to get this all the time as well. We are older and he’s 8 years older than me. In 2010 I went to my 30th high school reunion and that whole weekend, I heard the remarks about having young children, 10 & 14 at the time. Everyone brought their grandchildren to the picnic, and I brought my girls. I am proud of being a mom at my age, wouldn’t have done it any other way.

    One of my girlfriends has a 16 year old by a man old enough to be out dad. He lives in a senior citizens community and tells everyone his son is his grandson. Needless to say, their son doesn’t like visiting his dad.

  3. Latricia Fahringer

    April 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    My children are completely grown and I wait for grandchildren and I’m not yet 45. But their father waas 35 years my senior. It didn’t help that we had so many children so close together, and we practiced the theory of ‘call your spouse what you want your preschooler to call your spouse’. It would have been differant if I had been older – more mature, more level headed. I can well remeber how often I got hot headed at someone in a grocers or laundrymat who heard me tell a child, ‘tell daddy’, and then earned my ire by simply saying, ‘Your father’. You and your hubby seem to do a great job, and are usually relaxed about it, too. what could be better?

  4. Sockitmama

    April 27, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Loved the article! My husband is 13 years older than I am, we married late, and had kids even later. Both of us are asked if our twins are our grandchildren. Even children ask if they’re our grandchildren. And, although he’s White, nobody ever questions his parenthood. Yet, people always question mines because our kid are fair. Latino women think my son is Latino; White people think my daughter is White. I feel/fear our society is still too hung up on skin color and appearances. It prevents us from seeing character and who people really are.

    Some things in society do change; but other things stay the same.

    Thanks for the read. I enjoyed it.

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