Sunday, April 3, 2011

My Father's Child

My favorite Teddy Pendergrass song is “My Father’s Child”. When I was growing up, I thought is was curious that my parents called all their friends “Mr. “and “Mrs.” Even to this day, my mother calls her backyard neighbor Mrs. Wood even though they have known each other since 1948 and she calls my mother Mrs. Black. I once asked my Dad why. He told me that since no one else called them Mr. or Mrs., they used it as a term of respect among themselves. My parents grew up in the segregated south and whites either called by their first name or “boy” regardless of their age. Since my dad was an elementary school principal in a small Georgia town, he was called “Professor.” My generation was different. We call our peers by their first names and I have wondered whether that was a by-product of integration where now whites even in the south use titles when referring to blacks? However, one thing does strike me. I have noticed that black professors invariably have “Dr.” printed on their checks, put the title in their correspondence and emails and even refer to themselves as Dr. Yet my white colleagues don’t. I met another black professor at a UT commencement, introduced myself as Harold Black, and he introduced himself as “Dr.” I then said “Your first name is Doctor?” He said no, and then turned his back to talk to someone else. I guess it is still a matter of respect and forcing the world at large to acknowledge your status. I understand and actually do it myself when I think I am being disrespected. I don’t think I am much of a snob. How can you be a snob watching cole slaw wrestling at the Cabbage Patch during BikeWeek? Yet when a senior student emails me – or refers to me as “Mr.” I tell them that I have not been a “Mr.” in 40 years. I guess it is a respect thing. They know better and I consider it their way of putting me down. Another instance of nontolerance is my reaction to this generation’s total absence of manners. Aren’t you irritated that people who are providing a service use your first name? I get a call from my doctor’s office and she says, “Is this Harold?” I then say, “It is only if you are over 60. Otherwise it is Dr. Black.” I walked into my credit union, they pulled up my account and said “What can I do for you Harold?” My response is “You can call me Dr. Black.” Now in my doctor’s office computer and in the one at my credit union they have entered “call him Dr. Black!” Who trains the people at call centers to use customers’ first names? It is certainly inconsiderate and ill-mannered at best. When I place an order on the phone and am addressed by my first name, I tell the person on the other end “I guess it is a product of your generation. But I do not address strangers by their first name nor will I allow strangers who are serving me to address me by mine.” When they apologize and say “Mr.”, I am fine with that title. So am I my father’s child? Am I a snob? Or am I just a crotchety old man?


wsutton1 said...

Dr. Black,
Well said.

Anonymous said...

Working for a call center, I know they like to "customize" to some degree their interaction with clients or customers and to do so is to refer to them by their first names. I don't think this in necessarily disrespect but more of an approach of making customers think they have a personal relationship with the company.

I however also agree that if you have earned the title of a Dr. then you are entitled to be referred to as such. In reference to how students refer to you, it could be disrespect, or ignorance with it probably ignorance. Many students lack initiative to refer to a syllabus or a faculty search to see if a professor has a Ph.D. Just like in the military, your referred to by your rank and its always better to mess up by referring to someone as a higher rank than a lower rank. This situation can be viewed in the same way.