I’ve been called many things in my life, some nicer than others. I’ve been a son, a husband, a brother, a friend, an engineer, student, teacher, and that annoying customer on line 3. Some titles are given to us while others we take on our own. These don’t always fit who we really are, but sort us into the different boxes that life has.
My dear old daddy (and he liked being called my dear old daddy) used to say, “We are who we say we are.”
I became a college student, not when I walked into class, but when I said to others, “I’m a college student.” I became a Christian on the day I said, “I’m a Christian.” I became a worthless human on the day I said, “I’m a worthless human.”
What we tell ourselves is important. The titles we embrace and hang around our own necks are the most powerful. Others may give us titles or call us things like, “Sir,” “Mr.” or “The guy in isle 5,” but it’s the ones we embrace that count.
In my father’s last years he’d often introduce me as, “This is Andy of Me and Andy.” That meant so many different things. It was is part just my father’s way of expressing love and my importance in his life. In time it also became a title of importance as the strokes slowly took away his mental abilities and he relied on me to make decisions for him.
I remember once arriving at the emergency room and meeting father’s doctor.
“Are you Andy?” the doctor said. Apparently father was confused about what was happening to him and had been telling everyone that they needed to talk to “Andy.” It was my name, but in that situation it also became a job title, a position of authority, and a burden to a young man watching his father slowly die. It felt like the doctor was asking, “Are you The Andy?”
The medical staff also saw me as, “family,” and “caretaker.” At times it did feel more like a job.
In my professional life I held many jobs and each had its own title – electronic technician, software engineer, general manager, security officer, dish washer …
I still don’t understand why I took that job as a general manager of an electronic test lab. I’m not much of a leader and while I generally managed things for the lab, I never felt comfortable in the role. I didn’t last long there and moved on to other things.
Once I took on a job as a teacher at an electronics trade school. I taught the computer repair classes. Officially I was an “Instructor,” but rarely called myself that. It was just a title for the payroll department. My students called me, “Mr. Andrew” as I called all of them, “Mr. Bob” or “Mr. Jim.” Most of the students were men in their late 20s or early 30s trying to rebuild their lives. Some were recovering alcoholics, some veterans, some just lost souls who were tired of flipping hamburgers and I felt it important to give each one a little dignity by calling them, “Mr.” It was also just a bit of fun that they enjoyed.
Most of my fellow instructors were veterans, either retired or recently mustered out. All of them NCOs – sergeants, or chiefs and not one an officer. We considered ourselves just plain folk. Nothing fancy, just a bunch trying to do the job right.
At the school, morning break time was about 10:00 am and most of the students would head outside to the back parking lot for a smoke and conversation. We instructors would always join them as this was the time when they’d really ask questions and the time when we likely taught the most. Not all about electronics, but also a bit about life, careers, and getting along with people.
The director of the school would often come out to join us and always as he approached our group of instructors he’d say, “Gentlemen, good morning.” Our response was always to look over our shoulders to look for who he was talking to, often saying under our breath, “Where?”
It was part self-deprecating joke and part true. In the US military, gentlemen are officers while the NCOs and enlisted ranks aren’t. The title of officer and gentleman was one that my fellow instructors were passively rejecting.
After I left school I joined a company and was given the title, “Configuration Manager.” It was a bit like being the equipment manager for the high school football team. I didn’t manage people, but rather was a support position. My job was to manage the configurations of the software build tools, servers, the test lab equipment, and other details for the development team. It was a good job, but most senior managers didn’t really know what I did. They did understand that whatever it was, the development mangers thought it was important.
The title did cause some confusion and a little embarrassment. Once the development team was taken on a weekend team building event. The first evening we were told that when we went back to our hotel rooms that we’d find a tee-shirt on the bed. The shirts had the color of the breakfast table we were to sit at and the team we’d be on for the beach games later in the morning.
I got to breakfast before most people wearing a hideous orange shirt and found that no one was at my table. I sat down and was soon joined by the company co-founder, the director of engineering, and other managers, including my boss. It was getting a bit uncomfortable as I thought I’d gotten the wrong tee-shirt. I would have rather been with the junior engineers. Everyone at the table greeted me cheerfully enough and when the co-founder asked how I was, I replied, “I think I got the wrong shirt. I should be over there with Jim and the team.”
“No,” she replied, “You title is configuration manager and that puts you right here.”
The only good part was that it was mostly older people on the management team, we weren’t expected to do the same amount of running and climbing as Jim and his team. Still, we managers did win the sand mural contest and water balloon fight – turns out no one would throw a water balloon at their boss …
I can only think of one time when I demanded that a title be used for me and that was in college. I was in my mid-forties when I went back to get my BA in English and some of my professors were younger than me. It was weird at times. Most professors told their students to just call them by their first name and not use the honorifics of Dr. or Professor. Except one young professor I had. I learned that this was her first year teaching, she had just received her doctorate and was at least 20 years younger than me. At her first class she insisted on being called Dr. or Professor and then asked each student to introduce themselves by their first name. That didn’t sit well with me as I felt it was egotistical of her. When it was my turn I said, “Mr. Reynolds.”
She didn’t demand to be called professor after that.
Personally, I’d prefer that you just use the title, “friend,” when you talk about me.