In my 14 months of writing this blog, this is a welcome first. My dad has been asking to “guest blog” for months–I won’t reveal which one of us procrastinated until this week, not important–so here we are. I am particularly excited about this because my dad comments on my blog faithfully and many people tell me that they look forward to reading his commentary.
My dad is one of those really instantly likable people and that seems to bleed through his comments too. He’s friendly, kind, thoughtful, incredibly smart, and as you’re about to read, quite funny. As I am typing this, I am just remembering that this weekend is Fathers’ Day, making this a very appropriate time to force one’s father to write one’s weekly blog in her stead.
Take it away, Dick…
Diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickie Dickie dambo,
Oh so Rambo,
Air air buschke,
Mische mische pom pom…
-Anonymous singsongy chant*, possibly a Detroit/Michigan anomaly (spelling entirely a guess).
OK, let’s get this out on the table right away…I was not born a dick. Some of you, hopefully not all, may choose to disagree but my full given name is RICHARD Patrick Edward Doran. Don’t ask me how Richard birthed the nickname “Dick” but it’s a tradition that is at least 64 years old, since I’ve been called Dick all my life.
Two exceptions. When Mom was mad at me it loudly became “RICHARD P!!!!”. Confession: sometimes it did, because she was fierce when in anger mode. And when I went to college I told the first people I met that my name was Rick. I’d just spent high school enduring every dick joke ever conceived and thought I could avoid that ignominy. Rick didn’t stick, although there are a few old college buddies who still call me that.
Let’s go back even further to three famous Dicks. Search for “Richard Tracy comics” and what shows up is all about Dick Tracy, a comic strip launched in 1931 by Chester Gould.
100 BONUS POINTS FOR GUESSING WHICH RICHARD IS ACTUALLY A DICK
Talk about your heroic visage! Tracy couldn’t have a squarer jaw if Chester had used a T-square to draw it. On the other hand, ski-slope nose Richard “Tricky Dick” Milhouse Nixon is infamous and in my view, hugely responsible for the negative connotations of Dick. He took the 800+ years of the 12th century noble name of Richard the Lionhearted and dragged it down the toilet. I do have to admit I’m stretching things a bit there. It’s unlikely anyone called the latter Richard “Dick.” He was the king after all and his subjects would never risk the wrath of Dick!
By the way, did you know detectives were called “dicks”? Maybe some still are but certainly not as a name when they catch the culprit. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang traces the noun “dick” in the detective sense to the 19th century (around 1864) criminal underworld slang verb “to dick,” meaning “to watch.” This “dick” came in turn from the Romany (the language of the Gypsies) word “dik,” meaning “to look, to see.” Give me lionhearted over being a creepy watcher.
These days I often try to confront the issue head on. When I introduce myself, depending on the social situation and participants, I say to people “Dick Doran, or if you that makes you uncomfortable you can call me Richard.” If I’ve read the situation correctly I’ll get a few chuckles and sly glances. That’s when I add, “No worries, I’ve heard every dick joke ever uttered”. If I get it wrong the conversation gets stilted and ends quickly. The latter happens most often when I inadvertently meet Christian conservatives. They have no sense of humor when it comes to body parts.
And there’s my own family. Nancy, my lovely wife, bless her heart, never uses either Dick or Richard. She just starts talking to me and then complains that I don’t listen to her. So I tell her that if she starts with my name I’ll listen better because that will draw my attention and immediately open my ears. Thirty-two years and we’re still having the same discussion/argument. When forced, she will use Richard though. Does that mean she doesn’t use Dick because it makes her uncomfortable? Or more worrisome, does the person who knows me best harbor secret thoughts about the relationship between my nickname and my personality? We’re still married so I’m left to guess.
My male siblings use Richard when talking directly to me unless they introduce me to someone. Then it’s Dick. Are they sending a subtle message to the introductees? Whereas my sisters only use Richard when they are flabbergasted by something I’ve said to them. Which happens quite often since we have widely differing views on many things.
Thankfully my daughters call me Dad, Pops or Popsicle (don’t even go there!).
What’s in a name? From my point of view certainly not inherent personal characteristics. However, many nicknames are descriptors. Think Squinty, Four Eyes, Scarface, Big Man, etc., etc., etc. Others are anti-descriptors such as the seven-footer who is called Shorty or the XXXXL guy called Slim. And some people do look and/or act like their name/nickname.
For anyone named Richard/Dick though, please do not make the obvious association. All the Dicks I know are great, kind, hard-working people with a well-developed sense of humor. We’ve learned to laugh with you and at ourselves. We cultivate those qualities by choosing to believe people calling us Dick are using it in the anti-descriptor sense. In fact, I have yet to meet a Dick who is also a dick (I never personally met Nixon). The truth is the rest of you with less pejorative names are much more likely fall into that category than those of us who have thrived despite the potentially negative associations of our name. It’s a little-studied but well-known survival mechanism.
Now I’m wondering. What if all parents gave their kids names that have humorously negative connotations? I think we might be able to achieve world peace because everyone would learn to laugh at himself or herself. Do I dare hope…?
*The longer you drag out the first Dickie the happier you are to see me.