My mother-in-law normally lives with us, but she's been away the past few months visiting her new grand-daughter in the US. She'll be spending the Christmas holidays with us, however, arriving after the kids were in bed this past Saturday and surprising them when they woke up in the morning.
“Bappa's home!” my littlest one shouted, and there were hugs and incoherent stories all round.
It was strange for me to hear that word Babbpa though, because I don't think of my mother-in-law like that. It's only the kids who use that name, and they don't even remember why.
They don't remember that it was her husband who was first called Bappa by my eldest son, because he couldn't pronounce Pappa right at first and because the name had stuck by the time he could. They don't remember that he started calling his grandma that too after his grandpa died, and that she took ownership of the name in memory of her husband. The youngest two kids never even met their grandfather. To them he's only a picture on the wall, and they have no idea that they conjure his memory every time they call out, “Bappa,” to their grandmother.
It was a reminder to me of the ways that generation influences generation within families, even without our realizing it. The things we value, the words we use, the traditions we practise – so much of that is rooted in the generations that preceded us.
If my father-in-law was able to sit among us this Christmas, he might not recognize the gadgets that people give each other or even the faces of all the children, but he would recognize the way that the gifts are given, and the inevitable broccoli salad that is (who knows why) a necessity at the holiday dinner, and the ratty stockings that no one is willing to replace.
He'd also recognize the word Bappa, and he'd know where it came from, and he'd know that he's remembered.
Luke Hill is a stay-at-home father of three boys, aged 10, eight, and four. He has fathered, fostered, adopted, or provided a temporary home for kids anywhere between birth and university. He has taught college courses, adoption seminars, camp groups, Sunday School classes, rugby teams, not to mention his own homeschooled kids.