It’s only happened a few times, but I remember each one vividly and painfully, the way you might recall a bee sting or getting a really bad spanking when you were a kid.
The first time happened when my son was just a few weeks old. It was a warm, spring evening and I was pushing him around the neighborhood in his new stroller when we passed a plump, platinum-haired lady who lived across the street from us and whom we knew slightly. In fact, my wife had just purchased a photo print from the lady at her garage sale a few days earlier.
The lady stood before us, stooped toward the stroller to inspect my child, and cooed, “Oh, what a beautiful little grandson you have!”
My mouth dropped open. This batty old bird lived a hundred feet from our home. Surely she knew we had just had a baby. At the very least, she must have noticed the cardboard stork and blue balloons in our yard.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I stammered before pulling the canopy over my son and hurrying back home, frightened and ashamed.
The second time happened just a few months later. I was at home awaiting a service appointment, and I answered the door with the baby in my arms.
“Sorry I’m late, Mr. Roth,” said the handyman with the ripped Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt and the slight stench of marijuana smoke. “Oh, hey, nice grandkid!”
“He’s my son,” I said tersely.
“Wow! My bad! I guess I just—”
“—That’s okay,” I replied. It really wasn’t, though. I felt a strange panic invade my body. Being a new dad in my late 30s, I expected to be the oldest person at my child’s Gymboree music circle and at all the daycare holiday parties. But did people really think I was a grandfather? Was this how it was going to be for me throughout my son’s growing-up years?
“It’s because you’re bald,” one of our less-tactful friends advised, giving me a pitying little pat on the shoulder.
Thankfully, several years passed before another well-meaning stranger mistook my perch in the family tree.
My son wasn’t even with me a few days ago when I purchased a little something for my wife for Mother’s Day.
“What a cool gift,” said, the chatty, 20-something clerk with onyx studs the size of nickels in both of his ears. “Somebody is going to have a very nice Grandmother’s Day!”
My first thought when I heard this comment was to say, “My grandmother is dead.” Then, it dawned on me that he wasn’t talking about my grandma. The clerk was implying that my wife was a grandmother—and I was a granddad.
I just smiled and nodded, anxious to complete the transaction and return to my office, where I will likely toil for 20 more years before reaching the age when most granddads can retire.
This case of mistaken identity is probably going to happen more frequently as I continue to age. Hopefully, at least, people will perceive me as one of the cool grandpas, like the Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man in the World,” or one of those grey-haired guys in a Cialis ad, driving his classic Camaro home and always finding that the light is on in the upstairs bedroom window.