04/27/2013 01:47 pm ET Updated Jun 27, 2013

Fishes -- and Other Things

(I am writing this story in the first person, as it was told to me.)

The job of one of our daughters required her being away from home quite a bit, and I frequently helped her daughters, our grandchildren, with their homework, especially with grammar and writing. Our daughter assumed I knew what I was doing since I had always been the "go-to" person in our family for questions about grammar. But in reviewing one of the written assignments, she was surprised, and a little critical, that I had taught one of her daughters the plural of "fish" could, in some cases, be "fishes."

It was not a new experience for me to have a daughter question the actions of her father -- after all, in years gone by I had been accused by all of our children of not letting them do what "everyone else does," of saying or doing something that was an embarrassment to them, or, worst of all, of "ruining their lives forever." I'm sure I'm not the only father who has heard their children say similar things. But that was in their younger years. By now, I thought my children had learned that their father was, after all, a man of intelligence and wisdom -- so I thought.

But not in this case! I explained to my daughter that in some instances "fishes" was the correct plural form of "fish." She assured me that I was wrong -- that "fishes" could never be used as the plural of "fish." She was quite sure that I was mistaken.

Having learned in earlier years that arguing with her right then would be time wasted for both of us, I took the approach that experience had taught me. I gathered the appropriate scholarly resources relating to the plural of "fish" carefully put "Post-it Notes" in places that documented my reasoning, and left them on her desk with a note that it would be helpful for her daughter if she were to look at my references.

A week later she telephoned me and rather sheepishly admitted that, much to her surprise and contrary to what she had been taught, "fishes" was the correct plural of "fish" when referring to different kinds or species of fish. Her seeing the light pleased me. But then I made a mistake. I went on to say that it might surprise her to learn that "sheeps," "deers," "quails," and "grouses" are also correct plural forms in some cases, regardless of what the spellcheck on her computer or her out-dated grammar book or dictionary told her. She was quick to say I was just getting too deep, which is a tendency of mine, and she changed the subject.

A few days later, however, she inquired if I had been serious about the plurals of "sheep," "deer," "quail," and "grouse," and I assured her I was dead serious about their uses in some instances. I suspected, from her general demeanor, that she thought I was just a little out of date, perhaps using outdated resources, not doing it like everyone else now does, when, in fact, she was the one relying on outdated resources. In this instance, there was no question in my mind that she was the one mistaken. Oh, well, I've been there before!

As my wife and I have grown older, we are finding that our children frequently suggest that we are a bit out of date, not quite up with current trends, for example, having cell phones that can be used only for making or receiving calls.

"Oh, Mom and Dad," they say, "the way to keep in touch today is by texting. Everyone does that." That "everyone does that" comment reminds me of their high school days, which understandably makes me a little leery. And even if it were true that "everyone" does that except us, our adult children don't seem to realize that their parents just wouldn't want to be interrupted by texting with no regard for where we were, what we were doing, or the time of day or night it might be -- which seems to be the fad today.

Or there's this advice: "Dad, with your writing weekly blogs and articles, you need a laptop computer to take with you when you travel." It never occurs to them that I don't travel all that much, and when I do I don't want to be weighted down by carrying a laptop. With a partial knee replacement that is metal in one leg, it is difficult enough getting through security without having a computer to fool with. Besides, when staying at a hotel or motel I can access my computer by using one of the computers set aside for overnight guests to use. Anyway, it's not likely that my life will be ruined by not having constant access to my computer. And, even though they may not realize it, I suspect the same is true of their lives.

Our children tell us that we are foolish for having a minivan instead of a smaller car that is easier to park and manipulate in traffic and less expensive to operate. It doesn't occur to them, however, that we don't like having to "crawl" in and out of the bucket seats of smaller vehicles or that we feel safer being seated high enough in our minivan to get a good view of what's ahead or that we enjoy having a minivan available for them to use in picking up something from an appliance shop or hardware or home improvement store that is too large to fit into their smaller cars.

What my wife and I are experiencing as we grow older is the gradual reversal of roles. We used to tell our children what they should do, and now our children are telling us what we should do. And just as they, in their high school years, pretty much ignored their parents and did exactly what they wanted, we do the same with them now. While sometimes we are amused and other times aggravated, we are very grateful that our children care enough about our safety and wellbeing to be watching over us. We know we are loved, and that feels really good.

And when our children ask us about how to do something, how we think certain delicate situations with family members, neighbors, or friends should be handled, how to treat a sick child, or what have you, it gives us pleasure to realize that the great storehouse of wisdom we have accumulated during our lifetime is still in demand every now and then. I think many situations in real life, especially in Washington, need the input of older people. Many down-to-earth, practical, and common-sense solutions might just come to the fore.

Things can get a little tense between older parents and their adult children, but we all just need to keep in mind the truth of the old adage: "What goes around, comes around."