Ron Siebler: Dad taught me the value of ‘sir’
Published: 15 June 2012
I fondly remember when I was about 7 years old, and my father and I would go to the barbershop on Saturday morning, right after the chores were done. Dad always let me open the door so I could ring the cowbell that hung off the hinge. When it was my turn, I climbed up into the barber’s chair and sat on a wooden plank he had just placed across the armrest. Next, the barber pumped a pedal attached to the chair’s pedestal, and the chair, with me in it, rose into the air, bringing my head within the reach of his scissors. Then, I remember, the barber grasped the white bib apron with blue stripes, and in a single action shook off the hair from the previous customer and landed it around my neck — where he always tied it too tight.
As my father had taught me to say, I asked the barber to cut my hair so that it was no longer than the bottom of my ears. As quickly as he started, the barber ended the haircut by taking a brush dipped in powder and sweeping the back of my neck for any hair that had slipped under the apron. I remember the fragrance of the powder mixed in the air with the aroma of doughnuts cooking in the bakery next door, which was always our next destination. I even remember the barber’s name. It was sir.
You see, growing up in the ’50s, with a World War II veteran for my dad and a one-room schoolteacher for my mom, the first two words I learned were sir and ma’am. The next two words were yes and no, which I quickly learned to attach to the first two words, creating “yes, sir” and “no, sir,” and “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” Eventually, please and thank you found their way into my conversations, as well. My young vocabulary was complete when I finally mastered the coup de grâce: “No excuse, sir.”
In some ways these linguistic devices made life a little easier because you never really had to remember anyone’s name. When I went downtown with my dad on Saturdays, the only way to address the teller in the bank was with a sir. The clerk in the hardware store was always greeted with, “Please, sir, can you help me find … ” and “Thank you, sir, for helping me find ….”
These customs began to fade away in the ’60s and ’70s, as we learned not to trust anyone over 30 and as it became socially acceptable for children to call their parents and all their parents’ friends by their first names.
When someone calls me sir, I have always been quick to point out to the offender that sir is my father and that I am just Ron. Yet despite my many protests, this title seems to attach itself to me more and more frequently, as if I am wearing it for a name tag. Even though I have a ponytail that curls its way down to the middle of my back, the clerks at the store greet me with sir. The people who work for me call me sir. The children of my friends call me sir. My doctor, my banker, my lawyer, my preacher — even the phone solicitors — all call me sir.
So maybe, I’m thinking, just maybe, it’s time for Dad and me to head back to that barbershop for one more Saturday morning. I won’t need that board across the armrest anymore, and as the barber shakes and drapes the bib apron across my chest and ties it too tight around my neck, I’ll wink at Dad as I tell the barber to cut my hair so that it’s “no longer than the bottom of my ears — sir.”
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