Cultural and generational differences can make it difficult to talk to old people, even the ones who spawned your parents. Luckily, with the right approach you can cut through the small talk and get real on the important topics that truly interest you with your elders. Read on for the best and most polite ways to ask your grandfather what it was like being an orphan his whole life.
Be reverent, but direct.
Old people deserve our respect because they are full of wisdom. Show your ancient little grandfather respect by addressing him as “sir” or “admiral” (doesn’t have to be true; it’s just nice!), then get straight to your question by saying, “What’s it like being an orphan?” Orphanism is such an iconic part of our culture, but goes tragically under-recognized in old people. He’ll probably be grateful you even gave him the chance to share his perspective on this unique identity.
Ease in with reference points.
If it’s hard for you to ask straight up, then ease into the conversation by saying something like, “Oliver Twist, Orphan Annie, and Batman are prominent orphans in popular culture. What do you think the respective creators of these characters got right and wrong about orphanhood?” This will be a great way for your grandfather to open up about the exclusion of adult orphans who lost their parents to age old from mainstream orphan narratives. Listen, and even take notes, because it’s time for your orphan grandfather to be heard for once.
Say, “Your parents are dead – talk more about that.”
Orphans are infamously people whose parents are dead, and your grandfather fits that description to a t! If you have one or more living parent, then you can only imagine what being an orphan is like, but you’d sure be interested to hear. If he gets off topic by telling you stories about your late great-grandparents (tales of immigration, family drama, childhood memories, etc.) gently but firmly steer him back to the topic at hand: people an 87-year-old orphan boy.
Don’t let fear of saying the wrong thing stop you from really connecting with your grandfather while he’s still there! These conversations about his reflections on being an orphan will make him feel seen, heard, and deeply understood. Steve Coogan is not an adult orphan. We thought he might be, but we looked it up, and he’s not. So don’t mention him during the conversation. Cheers!