Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Name Game

Trick question, George Romney’s kid, the one that ran for president in 2012, what was his name? Oh, you say, Mitt Romney? Cut the wise-guy act, I didn’t ask you for his nickname. What was his name? Ah, that’s why it’s a “trick question,” nobody knows his name.

Willard Romney, for the record.

How about this one. George W. Bush’s younger brother, the one that rode in the Republican Clown Car in the run up to the 2016 presidential election. What was his name? Jeb Bush? Wrong again! JEB Bush? Nope, but closer. Nobody knows his name either.

John Ellis Bush, in case you were wondering, and I’d be amazed if you were wondering.

Why would anyone running for the highest office in the land NOT use their real name? As I’ve said previously hereon, usually when someone is using an alias, they are trying to avoid the police.

Or, they are rich kids. Rich families love to play the name game. If you meet a rich kid who says his name is “Trey,” it probably means that he is the third generation in his family to have the same name, as in, “Thornton Horatio Winthrup III.” It’s a way to thank old Thornton for getting that gravy train running back in the day.

Or, they are immigrants, or the children of immigrants, and they find their birth-names embarrassing, or inconvenient, or not conducive to success in business, or something. Like our abrasive new ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley. She’s a corker, isn’t she? A real pistol! Nice looking woman, good figure, but I’d be afraid to sit across the dinner table from her. She’s ambitious, and ruthless, and I like my women like I like my coffee: resting comfortably in a nice, warm cup, and not poured scalding over my face. So, Ms. Haley, how did you come to get an unusual name like Nikki? Unusual spelling, anyway, like a stripper name or something. How?

She made it out of whole cloth, that’s how. Her birth name is Nimrata Randhawa, which is a perfectly good name, a Sikh name, her family came to America from India. The whole family is ambitious in business, so maybe the parents came up with nice new American names for the kids when they were young. Nikki was born in South Carolina, though, and they named her Nimrata. Maybe the whole family changed their names, or they have two sets of names. Who knows why people do the things that they do?

I’ll tell you one guy who could have been forgiven for changing his name; that would be Barak Hussein Obama. At least people are vaguely, positively disposed to Sikhs, at least when they are not stupidly mistaking them for Muslims. The Muslims themselves, not so much. Black African Muslims have never been a favored group in America, and in the last twenty years it’s only gotten worse. I know that earlier in life our Barack was known as “Barry” to his friends, but isn’t that just like calling me “Freddy?” No shame in that, no subterfuge. And there it was on the presidential ballot itself: Barak Hussein Obama! I recognized that as an act of supreme courage, and I gave him full credit for it. And full credit to the family that raised him, too. That was the boy’s dad, and that’s a fact, and that’s the boy’s name, and that’s a fact. A fact based family, they weren’t running away from anything. Good for them!

I know young Thai people who have changed their names, first name and family name, and when I have heard the story I understood immediately why they would want to do that. Here’s one story: boy is born; within a couple of years dad runs away; after about one more year, mom dumps the boy with her brother’s family and runs away; boy is treated worse than a step child by an uncle who doesn’t care, and aunt who resents a strange child to care for, and older cousins who are worse than the stepsisters in Cinderella; boy runs away at age thirteen; boy attempts suicide at age seventeen; boy turns his life around, finishes high school, and does his military service; boy is so furious at his parents, his aunt and uncle, and his cousins, that he cannot stand having any name relationship to them at all; boy picks new names and heads for the courthouse. There’s no arguing with that decision.

There have been some days over the last two years when I have seriously considered changing my name. I know that it would be foolish to change one’s name at the ripe old age of sixty-nine, but it’s not like I don’t have my reasons.

My name is Frederick Ceely; my father’s name was Frederick J. Ceely. My father could never conceal his discomfort with having a son as worthless as me. His emotions towards me varied only from disappointment to disgust. You could say that some people should not become parents, and you could say that people who become parents should be taken aside and told that children are not like tiny adults who can be trusted to act responsibly and to take great care in their comings and goings. No, they are children, with all of the endearing qualities of children and all of the negative qualities, too. Boys, especially, can be expected to break things and make a mess. They seem to enjoy it, most of them, they do it with great glee on their dirty faces. My clearest memories of my early life, my pre-school life, are of my father reacting with disgust and sarcasm to my innocent breaking of things and making of messes. It became his lifelong impression of me.

Parents need to be told that children need a lot of guidance in the process of growing to adulthood. You cannot sit somewhere reading a newspaper and expect them to just begin to perform like champions of adult perfection. Oh, I know, come on, Fred, get over it! Maybe it’s about time, since I’m almost dead by now myself. My father died two years ago, at the age of ninety-five. We had had a generally civil relationship for many years by then, and I was more considerate of him in his old age than he had been of his father. I visited him more faithfully every year, for instance, even though his father only lived in Florida to our New York, while my father lived in New Mexico to my Thailand. That’s quite a hike. I wrote more letters as well, always enclosed in beautiful Thai greeting cards, and I sent clippings, photos, and small gifts. He still got in his sarcastic digs when I visited, and made known his disapproval, but he was my father, and I loved him. You only get two real birth-parents, and it’s best if you accept them as they are. Imperfect! Like the rest of us.

Then he died and left me completely out of his will, with neither a side note to me nor a verbal instruction regarding me to either of the beneficiaries, my sister and my ex-wife. That is a simple message, simple and clear: good riddance, Freddy, I never cared for you in life and I’m not about to start now. I’ll never get over that shock.

Every time I see my name in print I recall that I am his son. If there were a heaven, or a hell, from which the dead could observe the earth, he would still be embarrassed by what would be in his eyes my immature antics. Usually I wish that they’d just named me James, which was my maternal grandfather’s name (I never met the man, but he seems to have been a nice guy). I think about changing it now, but that would be foolish, wouldn’t it?

So Barak and I are men with imperfect fathers and unfortunate names who choose to live with those facts. In my case, it wouldn’t change anything anyway. I’d still be me, with all that that entails. In fact, the name is the least of it. 

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