The question always comes the same way.
There’s a lean across the table, as the questioner literally positions him or herself on the edge of their seat. There’s a narrowing of the eyes, a pursing of the lips, a creasing of the brow. Concentration pinches their features, they summon up their boldness, and they ask:
“So – what do they call you?”
They’re asking about my kids. My stepkids, which is why the question is asked. Unless you’re actively chewing vegan granola on the roof of your biodiesel-fueled classic VW camper van and dressed entirely in muumuu, there’s no assumption that your biological kids will call you something atypical. Alternately, you need to have more money than god and more household staff than you have minutes in a day you can personally spend with your children. Either way, you have to get pretty far afield of normal to earn this question if you’re not a step-parent.
But this is a question I get often enough that I’m starting to develop stock answers for it. Parent-teacher interviews, getting to know new people, relating an anecdote about Whistler and the Fish’s latest adventure.
I’ve been asked twice this week.
So, allow me to clear it up, because I know that even when people don’t explicitly ask, they’re curious.
They call me Trevor, because that’s how I was introduced to them, and because that’s my name.
That doesn’t stop them from experimenting, though. At one point, early on, Little Fish became convinced that I would be her big brother. There’s certainly an age difference between their mom and I, but not that much of a difference.
After that, “Oncle-papa.” Uncle Dad? That was cool, until I realized that the uncle dad is actually a thing, and I don’t relate at all.
Not long after (and this is the anecdote I tell if I want a laugh line and then a quick curtain call to the conversation), the girls asked me what they should call me. I told them that they can call me whatever they like. The Fish thought for a moment, chewing on her lip, then lit up: “I’ll call you Pirate!” And so, for a week, I was her Pirate.
For a while, they called me Pepper, a combination of “Papa” and “Trevor.” That’s cute, and I enjoyed it. It’s fallen off a bit of late. They call me Trevor again. I’m sure they’ll come up with something else soon enough, but for now, I’m me again.
If the questioner is feeling particularly bold, I’ll usually get this one: “They call you by your name? Don’t you ever want them to call you ‘dad?’”
I mean, sure, sometimes. But Whistler made a pretty strong case for calling me by my name. When I was picking her up from school at around the age of 3, her friends would announce their parents’ arrival to their teachers: “Mon papa est ici!”She would say, “Mon Trevor est ici!” It meant the same thing to her. She imbued my name with meaning. Until that moment, my name was all signifier; suddenly, it was signified.
Sometimes, if I get a really committed, totally incredulous character, I get “Is it enough for you that they only use your name?”
Let me answer that with this.
Not long ago, after a soccer game, the Fish told me, “You know, Trevor, you’re the best Trevor.”
“What does that mean?”
“What does that mean? Being a Trevor?”
She paused to think for a moment. “It means you’re kind.” Another beat. “And that you make things.”
I spent a lot of time grinning after that. It’s not every day your name becomes an honorific.
So. What do they call me?
They call me whatever they jolly damn well please. And whatever it is they call me, they always mean something by it. And that’s not just good enough – it’s an honour.
Until next time, folks, paddle your own canoe.
Featured photo by Caitlin Lafleche