Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Little Old Man

Writing about my involvement in politics reminded me of one of my earliest nicknames: the Little Old Man. When I was about ten, my mother's close friend heard me say something and responded with, "Robert, you are just a little old man. You need to quit trying to be an adult before your time."

A few years later, I was at a dinner bringing together a large number of executives, and I ended up having a lively conversation about politics, education, and economics with a man at my table. After an hour or more he asked, "So, where do you plan to go to college?" I told him I had plenty of time to decide that. He said, "Well, you're graduating this year, aren't you?"

I was twelve. He was shocked. He said I was far more mature than his son, who was already in college. He was sure I was seventeen.

The reason the politics reminded me of my "little old man" experiences, though, was because of my next experience. I was attending a function with my Dad, who was running for Labor Commissioner, and I had on the name badge my mother had gotten made at the same time as Dad's, which explained I was the son of the candidate. Granted, I was dressed in a suit with a name badge, so I can understand the exchange that followed. Well, I can understand it a little. Imagine the voice speaking to me was very Southern - thick country, and somewhat old and crotchety.

"So, what you runnin' for?" asked the gentleman.

"I'm not running for anything, sir," I replied.

"Oh, I thought you was the candidate," he told me.

"No, sir. I'm not old enough to vote yet."

"Well, I thought you was thirty-five years old!" I was sixteen.

My best friend and I decided to catch a movie. We mainly went to make fun of it because it was not exactly a blockbuster. The next day at work, my friend got asked by one of the waitresses (he worked in a restaurant), "So, did you go see [that movie]?"

"No," he lied. He liked doing that just to mess with people. Don't ask me why.

"Yes you did! I saw you there with your Dad!" she knew she had caught him in one of those lies.

"Umm, I was there with my friend... he's eighteen."

"Oh, I thought that guy was like forty or something."

In college, most of my friends admitted to me after we'd gotten to know each other that they when they first saw me, they wondered why the professor was sitting in the back. They thought I was playing a trick on my class. I graduated at twenty-one.

Soon after college, I started attending a church where I was told they had a young-adult Sunday School class. I asked one of the members if she knew where it was and she said, "Oh, yes. You should go to the Spares and Pairs class. They're you're age," and directed me to it. When I got there, I felt like maybe I had gone to the wrong place, but the name on the door was right. When I heard one of the class members talking about her son's experiences in college, I knew something wasn't right. A few days later I went back to the woman who sent me there and asked her how old she thought I was. "You're about thirty-four, right?" When I explained I was still just twenty-one, she sent me to the class I was originally seeking. I was still the youngest member of that class. By four years.

I dated an undergraduate just before going back to grad school myself. She was almost twenty-one, and I had just turned twenty-four. Her roommate told her that to check my license. She did not believe I was only twenty-four, but thought I was really a forty-something pervert cruising the college girls. When I showed her my license, she figured I had made a fake somehow.

So from the age of ten to twenty-four, I was a "little old man" even though I have not been "little" nor truly old. It comes in handy in places where a "kid" would not get respect, like when a man called to complain to me about the "young guy" at my office only to learn later I was that "young guy." My wife and I have even had a few laughs when her friends assumed I was her much older brother or (not sure they'd admit it crossed their mind) her Dad. I've never been bothered by it. Getting to talk to septuagenarians about "kids these days" when I was nineteen always made me laugh inside. I just thought I would share a funny story about how people see me.

-- Robert


le35 said...

Hey, Little Ol'e Man (Imagine me saying this with my fake southern accent), It shore is funny when we're out and about and people say, "Where is your dad?"

Robert said...

So apparently my wife gets more comments about me being her father than I realize....

Julie Pippert said...

How you think it was your looks or your demeanor that led them more to that conclusion? or the equal combination?

Robert said...

My looks: I wore dark framed glasses as a young child, so that added to it. When I was a teenager, I was already losing my hair. At eighteen a friend of mine said "Don't worry, it's not bad until you have a bald spot." so I leaned over, pointed and the back of my head and said, "A what" to which he apologized (yes, I had the beginnings of one then).

My demeanor definitely plays a role, too, though because I've been mistaken for fifty on the phone by people who don't know my father, and most people who do know him mistake me for him or him for me and he's turning seventy this year. I've always been someone who looks at typical adolescent risk-taking as dangerous and stupid, so I'm sure that added to it. I know my brother's death played a big part in making me such a somber sort. That's one reason I'm so thankful my kids and wife have helped me learned to find more simple joy in life. I am more like a child now than I was when I was a child. After I had eye surgery (LASIK), I got a lot fewer comments for a while without glasses. The hairline brought them back, though, soon enough.