Sometimes people just can’t understand another culture’s traditions. When I introduced my 30 year-old grandson to the leader of the local Santo Daime Church, he shook his head and told me, “that’s not possible. Not your grandson, your son perhaps, but not your grandson. How old are you?” I told him I was 69 and he felt validated, much too young to have a 30 year-old man as a grandson. Then he told me that I was confusing people by the way I talk (referring to people in the indigenous way). He continued, “You told my friend you were Miguel’s father. I had to tell him that it wasn’t true.” I responded that like it or not I am Miguel’s father. That’s our relationship and that’s how we talk in our tradition, we don’t say “this is my spirit son” because we don’t draw that distinction between blood and spirit. We are all related, so we create family by naming it.
When I talked with Christopher about the interchange later that night, he wanted to know why it was so hard for people to understand our relationship. I explained that he is too mature, too much of a man for me to call him “grandson”, so it doesn’t work for those people. Since Chris had made me his grandfather when his grandfather died, it made sense to both of us. But I sensed something had changed when I suggested he might be my son and he said, “that’s OK with me” (in response to my telling him he was too mature). So I asked him, “how do you want me to introduce you to people, as my grandson or as my son?” “Any way you like.” was his response. This was different, so I asked him if he wanted to change our relationship. “Are you saying you want to be introduced as my son? Do you want to be my son?” He smiled and said, “yes, I want to be your son, Dad!” and he embraced me. Then he told me that his dad is a year younger than me and that, unlike his dad, I really “get” him, our understanding of one another is more deep and intimate, like a father/son relationship should be. He feels known and seen by me for who he really is. So I said “OK. From now on you are my son.”
My god daughter was listening to our interchange and she stepped up to me and said, “God father, I have never had a Grandfather and I always wanted one, can we change our relationship too?” “Yes” I said, “from now on you are my granddaughter.” She was delighted at this novel flexibility of relationships. Her husband adopted me as his father a few months ago. I am sure these changes are going to confuse a lot of people who don’t understand metaphor. But that’s life I guess.