If it happens in other parts of the country, I’m not aware of it. It might. As far as I know, it’s just a Southern thing.
But every time it happens, I wonder if this will be the time he just loses it.
“What are you having to day, Sweetheart,” she says to my octogenarian father, resting her hand on his back as she fills his upturned coffee cup.
He shifts in his seat, his jaw set. She can’t tell she’s annoyed him; but we can. He places his order and hands the menu to her.
“I’ll get that right out for you Sugah,” she says, as she turns to go.
Daddy cannot stand it. He shakes his head, and mutters just loud enough for us to hear, “I’ve got one sweetheart. And it’s not her.”
In the South, whether you are checking out at a grocery store, signing in at your doctor’s office, or ordering your breakfast, you are likely to become, “Sweetie,” “Honey,” “Sugarpie,” or any of a gazillion other faux endearments.
There are several ways this is offensive. For one thing, using such familiar terms is just inappropriate. These pet names are meant for . . . well . . . pets, loved ones. Not strangers. Maybe at one time it was fine to greet a person you’d never met as you would a six-week old cocker spaniel. It isn’t now. A simple “Sir” or “Madam” will work; or skip the address all together and just make eye contact. That should do the trick.
Secondly, its sexist. Would it be okay for a waiter to put his hand on a woman’s back and call her “Hot Lips?” Of course not. I mean, yeah; they got away with it on MASH. But that show was set in the 50’s, so I think we can safely say that behavior is, at least, outdated. Using intimate greetings for strangers is just not okay these days—if it ever was.
Third, I think it is ageist. My parents are young 83 and 81 who neither look nor act like octogenarians. It’s patronizing and disrespectful for mere acquaintances to address them as they would children. My father pastored churches for 40 years before retiring to start a business that he and my mother ran for almost 20 years. He has his doctorate, for goodness sake! And my mother is a mentor to more young women than I can count and has good friends the age of her children who hang out with her because she’s great company. My parents text with their nine grandchildren regularly, go to soccer games and band concerts, and in May 2019 they went with my husband and me on a cruise to Cuba.
But you know what? Their vitality should not even play into this discussion. Older adults should be addressed with deference and respect regardless of their physical or cognitive condition.
I know there are those who would say, “I don’t just speak that way to senior adults. I use endearments with everyone!” Okay. In that case, it’s not ageist. It’s just sexist and offensive.
Others are thinking, “But that’s just the way I am! Why are people so sensitive?” Okay, you can be whichever way you choose and that’s fine.
All I’m saying is that there are reasons why people may not want you to call them “Sugarpie-honeybunch.” Why not just call them by their names instead?
A decade ago when I was in divinity school at Gardner-Webb University, I completed an assignment for my Pastoral Care and Counseling class that was insightful at the time and continues to prove useful to me now. The task was to complete a systemic model for care in the church using Erikson's Stages of Development.
Lately, I've been thinking a lot about pastoral care for those in Erikson's last stage of development: Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair. I pulled up my project to review the thoughts I had back then when I was elbow deep in pastoral care textbooks. In my opinion, these ideas are helpful to anyone who desires to show love to people in this late-in-life stage.
I offer that portion of the project below with one caveat: it is more academic than what I usually post here. SO . . . If it's more than you want to read, would you just do this one thing: check in on
my father-in-law a senior adult you know. For example, offer a ride to Tuesday morning Bible study at the church. Or plan a breakfast outing; maybe the senior adult you know loves to go out to breakfast. Talk to them. Find out what his or her interests are. Ask for help; it's so nice to be needed. Don't forget about him, whoever he is. I bet it's really hard on his family who aren't local. I bet those who live locally would really appreciate co-travelers in this grief journey. You know, whoever they are. My 97 year old friend Mary said it best: "Just don't forget about us. Remember us."
(Watch for an upcoming post with specific how-to ideas and feel free to comment and offer ways you would like to see the church meet the needs of senior adults or ways you've seen this kind of ministry done well.)
PASTORAL CARE: A SYSTEMIC PLAN
(completed for Dr. Doug Dickens, PC&C, GWU, 2010)
Mature Adult, ages 65 +, Ego Integrity vs. Despair.
Mature adults need pastoral care to help them feel connected and valued. Pastoral care at this stage includes care for the children of the mature adults and often care for their aging parents as well. Mature adults must be cared for so that they do not despair.