A Grandfather By Any Other Name…

Months before my older sister’s baby was even born, my mom knew. ‘I will be Bubby,’ she said with a great deal of authority. And so she was, adopting the Yiddish moniker of our tradition and heritage with pride. My dad, however, was not quite as certain as to whom he would be when his first grandchild was born. He didn’t feel like a Zaidy, the Yiddish equivalent of grandfather and usual partner of Bubby. But he didn’t feel like he was a Grandpa either. Or a Granddad. Or a Papa. Or a Gramps, Pops, Opa, Sabba, Nagypapa, Paw Paw or Hey You.

My dad still hadn’t decided what he was going to be called by time my niece was born, so he just told us all that he would let her decide. I don’t remember it being weird for the first year or so before Maya could talk, and therefore decide what she was going to call her grandfather, but at about 18 months, we finally got the answer we were all looking for.

‘Who’s that?’ my sister asked, pointing to our dad.
Baby Maya didn’t even hesitate.
‘Big Guy’ she said, and toddled off.

And so, Big Guy found his name and identity as a grandparent. Funny at first, using the nickname eventually became just as comfortable and familiar as calling somebody by their – well, name. By time my own daughter came around, six years later, Bubby and Big Guy were well established and in our family, as normal as Gram and Gramps.

I think my dad’s hesitation in finding his grandparent name was just as deeply rooted as my mom’s security in hers. My dad never knew his own grandparents, so he was not able to attach the love, respect and fondness to a title the way my mother could. Where the matriarchal, loving Bubbys in my mother’s past provided a role my mom could aspire to and be proud of achieving, any iteration of grandfather just felt alien to my dad. It’s ok – we were all happy to start a new tradition.

I’ve heard recently that the Boomers (aka my mom and dad’s generation) are not keen on being called Grandma and Grandpa because it makes them sound geriatric; old and uncool. Some of the names I have heard instead have been pretty cute (Go Go picks up a little girl at my daughter’s school), and it can make sense to get creative when blended families abound. If a kid has four living grandparents and they are all divorced and re-married (it happens), that’s a lot of Grandmas and Grandpas to keep track of. But I feel bad for the Boomers shunning the title out of vanity.

I can’t think of anything that my own children’s grandparents value higher or take more pride in than their families. They have earned the title of Gramma and Grampa and Bubby and point out their esteemed role to anybody that makes eye contact when they are out with their granddaughters.

As for my dad, he did not get to be Big Guy for nearly long enough. He passed away four years ago of cancer, mere weeks before my second daughter, his third granddaughter, was born. But she knows who he is as well, pointing out her Big Guy in pictures she could never be in with him. And I take much comfort and joy in knowing that, although it took him a little while find it, to all three grandchildren and any that come along in the future, my dad will always be, Big Guy.

Karen Green recently traded life in the biggest city in Canada for life in the biggest cornfield in Canada. Freed from her full-time job as a writer and editor, Karen now spends her time…writing and editing. And frolicking in the leaves with her two small girls. Karen is a speaker, the founder of Mom The Vote and the author of the blog, The Kids Are Alright, where she has been writing about the humorous and poignant moments of family life since 2005. She is thrilled to be a part of canadianfamily.ca. 

4 responses to “A Grandfather By Any Other Name…”

  1. Ali says:

    My kids have three sets of grandparents so it was even trickier.

    My in-laws already had grandchildren and they were saba and safta (hebrew) because my nephew and niece were israeli, it only made sense.

    My mom and stepdad became bubbie and zaidy..it just sort of fit…because my mom is TOTALLY a bubbie.

    My dad and stepmom are either grandpa and grandma or paw-paw and maw-maw, depending on my kids’ moods.

  2. Mrs. Wilson says:

    My daughter was the first grandchild on both (or, all three, kind of) sides.

    My parents decided on Opa and Grannie. My dad wanted to go with his dutch heritage and my mom wanted to be a “young” granny, which is why she went with the “ie” spelling. (She was only 40 when my daughter was born.) My oldest couldn’t say “Opa” and started calling my dad “Papa” and it kind of stuck. So, they’re Papa and Grannie.

    My oldest’s biological dad’s mom went with the old standby, Grandma.

    My in-laws weren’t too keen on being grandparents. They were stoked about the grandkid, just not the title of grandparents. My father-in-law went with Big Papi. My mother-in-law couldn’t decide, so I chose for her. She’d recently been to Haiti and the children at the orphanage called her “Miss Sue”. So, Miss Sue she became.

  3. Karma says:

    My daughter has seven grandparents: Grammy, Opa, Nana, Papa, Grandpa, Gran, Grandma. And somehow, she has managed to not only remember who is called what, but also the connections that exist (for example, Grammy is my mom and Opa is my stepdad). Lucky for us, all grandparents had the opportunity to pick their own name, and they all chose something different. Whew!
    Thanks for sharing your story – I adore that your dad was called “Big Guy” – I truly laughed out loud when I read that.

  4. TwoBusy says:

    That’s awfully, awfully sweet.

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