Read on to find out what happens.
What’s In a Name?
My dad was a great man. He was a skilled carpenter who built his own house from the ground up. He was an active father, cheering on all of his kids in their various sporting endeavors. He was known to be the center of attention at the bars he frequented even into his sixties—he had one of those big, booming laughs that filled a room and made you wonder what kind of story he was telling… because he was also the kind of guy who laughed loudly at his own stories.
For all the things he was great at… one thing he never did too well with was names.
It didn’t take me too long to learn this. The earliest example I can remember, and the most frequently recurring one, had to do with our neighbors, the Criswells. I don’t know if there ever was a time that Dad actually knew their last name. I believe he moved into our home around the time those Chevy Chase movies featuring the Griswalds started coming out, and I’d venture to say that if Dad happened to see the Griswald family on the big screen before he met the Criswells, it was highly unlikely he ever learned their actual names. Maybe, if he met them before the Chevy Chase movies, maybe for a short time, he got it right. I wasn’t around then, so I can’t say. But what I can testify to, is that at any time growing up when my father mentioned the neighbors, always referring to them as “The Griswalds,” he was immediately chastised by my mother who would throw up her hands, roll her eyes, and scream, “CRISWELLS, John! Criswells, not Griswalds! We’ve lived next to them for twenty years!”
This injustice, at least, was mainly done behind the neighbors’ backs, as I doubt my father ever found occasion to address them by their last name. With my girlfriends, the humiliation was much more uncomfortable, as my dad routinely addressed them by the wrong names. Pre-adolescent and teenage girls are embarrassed easily and self-conscious enough when no one in the room is paying the slightest bit of attention to them, so imagine throwing into the picture a boisterous, well-meaning, terribly loud, and completely unintentional and oblivious father into the situation, who, for the life of him, could not get the names of these girls straight! While my girlfriend’s faces demonstrated that they were praying that they would melt down into the carpet and dissolve in order to escape, my father would continue jabbering on cheerfully, calling them by the wrong names every time the chance presented itself.
He was especially bad concerning two of my best friends who, understandably, shared some physical traits. Lindsay and Elizabeth (who went by the unusual nickname WizB) were both fair and petite. And since Lindsay and WizB sounded similar, in my father’s brain, I’m not sure their names ever stood a chance. Dad frequently mixed them up, calling Lindsay WizB, yelling for Lindsay when he meant WizB. Eventually, his mind seemed to settle on one interchangeable term for both of them—he dubbed them both LizB and was done with the whole thing. Efforts to correct him were futile, and, eventually, we gave up.
The worst, however, was yet to come. When I got into a serious relationship with a man named Rashieme, I knew that this name was going to be the biggest challenge yet for Dad to master. When Rashieme and I found out we were having a baby, I was more determined than ever to make sure that this time, whatever the cost or humiliation, Dad learned Rashieme’s name.
“Dad,” I said, sitting down with him one day. “It’s really important to me that you learn Rashieme’s name.”
“Machine?” Dad asked, scrunching his brow and glancing at me questioningly. This was not the first time we’d had this conversation.
“Rashieme, Dad,” I said patiently. “We’ve been together for several years. We’re getting married. We’re having a baby together. As the father of your grandchild, I think it would be really great if, you know, you learned his name.”
Dad paused as though he were in deep thought. “Well,” he began finally. “It ain’t like he’s got an easy name, like Tom, or Bill.”
“Be that as it may,” I continued, “I would like for you to try. Rashieme.”
Dad nodded as though the matter were settled.
However, a couple weeks later, I got another first-hand lesson that proved to me that try you may, try you might, there are no guarantees when it comes to my Dad. Upon my request, Dad was moving my childhood desk into our apartment. He and his girlfriend showed up, rang the bell. Dad greeted Rashieme with a smile, but, I noticed, made no effort to greet him by name. I was actually a bit relieved, figuring Dad would wait for me to say his name aloud to refresh his memory before attempting to address my beloved.
The visit was brief but friendly. Dad and Rashieme moved the desk in, positioned it per my instructions, and then the four of us stood around chit-chatting for a bit before Dad informed me that he and his girlfriend had lunch plans and were about to head out. I nodded, giving him a hug and a kiss. Dad then turned his attention to Rashieme, gave him a grin and a congenial wave, before belting out, to my horror, “See ya later, Darnell!”
Rashieme froze, smile plastered on his face, managing to wave back at my dad and watch the apartment door slam behind him. It was only then when he turned to me, smile still on his face, and demanded, “Who the *insert explitive here* is Darnell?”
After repeatedly assuring Rashieme that I didn’t even know a Darnell and had certainly never mentioned one to my Dad, and embarrassingly confessing that it was probably the only “black” name Dad could remember on the spot, my honey rolled his eyes and accepted my profuse apologies before getting ready for work.
When I later confronted my father regarding this major disaster, he shrugged, and returned back to the “Not an Easy Name” defense. You’ll be happy to know that by the time our child was born, Dad had managed to learn Rashieme’s name.
He even learned his granddaughter’s—another “difficult” name—Kaliah.
Now that my father is no longer here to mess up the names of my friends, the memories that used to annoy me now only bring a bittersweet smile.
He took the time to learn Rashieme’s name, something that most of us would take for granted as a simple task. And for many, maybe it would be.
But how simple is it, also, to tell the people we love, quirky habits and all, that we love them?
Just as easy, I’d presume, yet some of us let it go day by day, taking for granted that we’ll get another day to say the words or demonstrate our love.
Inevitably, if you live long enough, you’ll lose someone that will make it clear for you that tomorrows aren’t promised, and what you have to say today, you might as well say it now.
And while you’re at it, if you’re a dad… take the time to learn the names of your daughter’s friends. And especially her boyfriend. Trust me, she’ll appreciate it.