I don’t think I can handle this ‘sir’ stuff

When did I become a “sir”?

Did it happen when I wasn’t expecting it?

It must have, because otherwise, I would have stopped it before it could start.


Mount Holyoke’s Laurel Parade is always a fun event to watch. Classes starting with their second anniversary and alumnae with five-year anniversaries after that march through campus wearing white and accessories with their class colors. (The color for my wife Suzi’s class, 1993, is green.)

As the pictures above show, the parade attracts participants from their early 20s to their 90s, and the parade concludes with that year’s graduates carrying laurel chains to college founder Mary Lyon’s grave, cheered on by fellow alumnae gathered along either side of the parade route.

The forecast didn’t look great, but even though it was chilly, the rain held off long enough to get through the parade, even though it has rained all day since.

Needless to say, it’s an event for a lot of pictures, and as everyone was waiting to go to the alumnae annual meeting — Suzi, as president of the Class of 1993, had to say a few words (she brought the jokes, and killed) — a young woman tapped me on the shoulder and said …

… “Excuse me, sir, could you take a picture of me and my friends?”

”Excuse me, sir …”

Of course, I did, and they all seemed delighted with the result, but I told them that I didn’t like being called “sir” because it made me feel old. Everyone laughed.

On Facebook, my friends reacted predictably: that I am old (two years younger than me), AARP’s coming! (a year older), that at the last reunion she and her husband went to, a very nice young man offered a ride on a golf cart (more than a few years older than me, but years from even considering a golf cart).


By the way, whoever landed the golf cart contract at Mount Holyoke made bank. They’re everywhere!


I’m kind of in a weird place about my age.

I turn 46 in a couple weeks, healthy, and I feel better than I have in a few years. It feels like I still have a lot more left to do in my life and career.

On the other hand, my college graduation — the same thing the young women with the laurel will be doing tomorrow — was 24 years ago … and I have no idea how I got  where I am now.

Seriously, it sometimes feels like I went to bed 22 and woke up in my mid-40s. And then, at the risk of seeming morbid, combine that with knowing that unless I make it to 92 (or the age I’m assuming those members of the Class of 1948 are now), I’m more than halfway done already.

Now that I think about it, maybe I should have asked for tips.


Based on the way she looked and her blue scarf, the woman who called me “sir” is probably in her mid-20s … early 30s, tops. And to get my attention to ask for a photo of her and her friends, she felt the need to call me “sir” — like she was thinking, “Here’s an older gentleman, so I will address him as such.”

Of course, if she is on the lower end of the age scale I’m imagining, it wouldn’t be all that odd for me to be old enough to be her father. Maybe she only saw the few gray hairs on the side of my head.

I feel the same way about “mister.” Whenever anyone calls me “Mister Fonda,” I always reply that my father is Mister Fonda, and he doesn’t like it, either.

But it’s not just about the age. “Sir” and “mister” seem so … formal.

And I hate being formal, especially when I’m the object of the formality. I’m just not hung up on that sort of thing, and I get that it’s supposed to be respectful (I do the same thing when I’m addressing strangers), but I don’t need it.

Just show respect by being respectful, and if you do that, “Bill” is plenty fine by me.


7 thoughts on “I don’t think I can handle this ‘sir’ stuff

  1. I had a couple students who’d moved north from Texas. They kept saying “sir” and “ma’am”. It bugged me a bit at first, but it had been engrained in them as common manners. We’ve lost so much respect for each other nowadays that an occasional “sir” or “ma’am” really can’t hurt. Maybe some of those folks can pull us out of the deep end of disrespect today.


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