Q. I have, as they say, “married up.” My in-laws are in the Social Register, which is all quite foreign to me. They’re lovely to me and aren’t snooty at all — but neither are they unaware of their standing in the communities where they summer and winter. Whenever I am to meet someone new from their circle of acquaintances, my m-i-l always tells me their background. Since I don’t want to ask her, I will ask you: If I ever have to refer to it, is someone’s background considered a provenance or a pedigree?
A. Well, I think a provenance has to do with origin and most often refers to prior ownership — mostly used when speaking of art. The word “pedigree,” I guess, can be and has been used regarding people, but to me a pedigree has to do with bloodlines of dogs. That said, I have long thought the Social Register to be the American Kennel Club for humans, so maybe “pedigree” is the right word.
If one must use a word for this, I would probably say “lineage.” And “summer” and “winter” as verbs, by the way, definitely came to us from the Social Register crowd, since most of us simply “live” in one place . . . summer and winter. Your question does remind me of a friend’s mother who was interested in where everyone fit in, and her wonderful question to anyone new was, “And who were you, dear?”
Q. I wanted to add something to the answer you gave to the woman whose cousin came out to her and she felt she fumbled the answer. As a gay man, I still remember vividly the very different reactions my parents had when I came out to them. I was 22 at the time, and my parents had gone through a very messy divorce a few years prior. I’d been “forced” to side with my mother and behaved in a hurtful way toward my father.
To say I was shocked at their different reactions is an understatement. I always thought I was close to my mother. But when she found out, she basically said the following: “You never gave women enough of a chance. Here’s a book on how to change. How could you do this to the family?” Her final comment was: “If this is the life you choose, I can’t have you around your younger brothers.” (They were 8 and 10 at the time.)
My father, on the other hand, was told over the phone, as we were just beginning a relationship again. His comment? “I hope you are safe, because I don’t want anything to happen to you, and I hope you find someone special to spend your life with, because I know it’s not easy to find that.” It’s a testament to how much of an impact their differing responses had, as I still remember all this 25 years later. Your advice was spot on, but I thought I’d share my experience.
A. Interesting how you bet on the wrong horse. That whole sorry history is your mother’s loss. And so it goes. For the life of me, I cannot understand homophobic thinking. It is like wishing a right-handed child were left-handed.