Thursday, July 23, 2009

The one where I discuss why men aren't evil...

I just read a blog post where the author discussed having changed her name four times and then dove into the reasons behind each name change. Now, she’s a professional writer and some of her reasons have to do with the nom de plume issues of writing controversial (but highly entertaining) columns, but her first name change is what stuck with me. She changed her last name in order to undermine our patriarchal society. I can understand the reasoning behind this. Words are incredibly powerful, or at least I’ve always believed they are, and I suppose changing your last name will remove a public association to the men in your family. (And to be fair, her childhood was horrific enough to cut off her arm if it meant disassociating with some of the monsters in her life.) But then she mentioned the other women in society who change their names. And I started thinking, would I just up and change my name?

Well for starters, I definitely wouldn’t change my first name. I like it. Everything about it. I like my first initial in all kinds of script, I like the origin of my name, I like how my name sounds in a variety of languages. I love my name.

As for my last name? I would feel like I was betraying two amazing men who have done so much to make me the person I am today. I don’t feel like keeping their name in any way diminishes the efforts of women who also contributed to my upbringing, some with the same last name, some with another.

My father’s father was born in a tiny town in Cuba. His dad didn’t really want him, so one day he dropped my grandfather off at his grandparents’ house and left him there. I think he was around 4. He spent his childhood doing little boy things, his adolescence learning to be a welder, and his young adulthood fighting first in a revolution, then in a counterrevolution. He left his home, knowing he’d probably never see it again, and brought his family to a country where he worked like an animal to put his children in the best schools available. He was a tough man, and big, the kind of man who would frighten little children with his sheer size. I once saw him bring a grown uncle to his knees with a simple handshake. But he was also kind. I saw him every week as a young child. He would bring a pizza to our house for lunch and just sit and talk with us and with my mom. He was a pillar of the community and a lot of my faith in God comes from his example. He overcame alcoholism, heart disease, and was eventually brought down by the cruel condition, Alzheimer’s. But even when he was sick, when he couldn’t recognize me or my brothers, his children or his wife, he was still the man who bought my a bike, never held me back from doing anything because I was “just” a girl, and encouraged me to study hard and want for more than he had.

My father is a product of his father in so many good ways. He’s generous and loving, and still has that toughness. He’s got the handshake too. He spent his childhood studying hard. He was “that guy.” Top of his class, varsity wrestler, handsome, blah blah blah. He went to college and started studying to be a doctor. And then he met my mother. She was (and still is) a good friend of his little sister’s. After a while, it was evident that they were meant to be together. They got married his senior year, despite objections from both sides of the family. He crammed about five million credits into his last semester so he could get a job and they could start their life together. Most 23 year-old guys I know run away from that kind of commitment, emotion, and lifestyle change. His life plan was on a medical school track and here he was college-educated, married, working as a phlebotomist, and pumping gas at night. He met the love of his life and didn’t “keep things casual” or ask her to wait while he “dated around while he was young.” (I’ll keep my thoughts on the ridiculous antics of boys nowadays for another post.) He moved on to other jobs, settled into a successful career, and created an amazing family. I was always encouraged to go after what I wanted, to look for things that made me happy. I also was lucky to be reared in the presence of an amazing relationship. My parents are still sublimely happy, like high-schoolers in puppy love. And they fight. It wasn’t until I left home and got more insight into how the normal world works that I realized how rare it was to find a relationship where you can fight and use it to make the relationship stronger. I am immeasurably grateful to have this example in my life as a model for my future marriage (which is unlikely at this time, let’s be honest).

I could go on an on about both of these men. I could go on and on about their flaws too, but I won’t. It’s enough to mention that they have them, that they’ve passed some of them onto me (I'm not perfect! Shocker!), and that the good far outweighs the ugly. I could also go on about my uncles, cousins, brothers, friends. They are all amazing men in their own right who’ve made an impact, big or small, on me.

So there you have it. Why would I change my name? These men have given me everything I’ve ever wanted and needed and taught me how to get these things for myself. I don’t even know if I can change my name when my unlikely marriage happens. I’ll probably just tack the new one at the end. Because I like my last name’s first initial, I like how it sounds in Spanish the best, but mostly I like that it marks me as being a product of my patriarchy. Maybe that’s an unpopular thought among young women my age. Maybe I will be labeled an anti-feminist. It doesn’t really matter though, because the only label I care about is the Rodriguez one on my birth certificate.

(Just for the record, I carry the marks of the women in my family proudly too. And that’s another post for another time.)

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