Monday, June 18, 2012

My Name is Deborah

When I was born, my parents named me Deborah Leigh. At first, the plan was for my real name, the one that people used, to be Leigh. However, I was uncooperative, even as an infant and toddler. You see, I had no hair. When I was two, I had some hair. But I definitely did not have girl’s hair; simply because it had not grown long, it looked like it had been cut into a boy’s style. My parents have told me that strangers would see me and say something along the lines of “What a cute baby! And what’s your name?” Many of you will recognize this as code for “I can’t tell if you’re a boy or a girl, so I need your parents to tell me your name. I can’t ask them, though, because I don’t know which pronoun to use!” People who ask this question in this way are hoping for, and expecting, a nicely unambiguous name: Abigail or Adam, Isabelle or Isaac. Not a name like Leigh. After all, it is Leigh (girl) or Lee (boy)?

After a while, my parents decided to take pity on these unfortunate strangers, on themselves, and on me: They started calling me Debbie. Although they did not change my legal name, they effectively changed my real name. They had this right. They were my parents, and I was too young to know or care.

I was Debbie throughout my childhood and college years. Then I moved across country for graduate school, and several factors combined to motivate me to make a change. I didn’t want to be Debbie anymore. I wanted to be Deborah. Sure, I gave metaphorical passes to those who had known me as Debbie—I always will be Debbie to my parents, my siblings, and most of my friends from my youth. I will be Debbie to those who meet me through these individuals; I don’t expect people who have heard of me only as “my daughter/sister/friend Debbie” and who never have heard me referred to as Deborah to call me Deborah. But to the majority of people in my life now, I am Deborah. Even some of those who knew me as Debbie have made the change, out of respect for my choice or out of recognition that Deborah is, in many ways, a different person than Debbie was. So I effectively changed my real name. I had this right. It’s my name.

Throughout my remembered life, however, others have tried to change my name. When I was Debbie, they called me Deb. When I became Deborah, some (who never knew me as Debbie) called me Debbie, but more continued to call me Deb.

What’s the big deal, you may ask. It’s just a shortened form of your name. The big deal is that it is not my name. It doesn’t matter that it’s a form of it, or that it’s similar. It is not my name.

I’ve lost count of how many times in television and movies, I’ve heard the following interaction, or some variation thereof: We are introduced to a character; let’s call him Mark.  Later, we’re introduced to another character, someone who is a jerk, or who doesn’t like Mark for some reason—someone who wants to insult Mark, or who is supposed to be perceived as extremely arrogant, inconsiderate, and unlikeable. So what exchange does this person have with Mark over and over again? Come on, you know:

“Oh, good to meet you, Mike!”

“It’s Mark.”

“Oh, yeah, right, right. So, let’s get down to business, Mike, here’s what we need to do.”

“It’s Mark.”

“My name is Mark.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. Anyway, what I was saying, Mike, is …”

There’s a reason this type of exchange is used so much in Hollywood. The refusal to acknowledge someone’s name is a powerful indicator of one’s opinion of him- or herself related to that someone. The one who refuses to acknowledge the other’s name claims superiority, claims a position of supreme authority, by claiming the right to decide the other’s name. And because names are so central to us, when someone claims the right to name you, it feels like that person is claiming the right to define you, to tell you who you are rather than accepting that you are a person separate from who that person needs or wants you to be. It is an act of supreme arrogance.

I understand that most of those who have called me “Deb” throughout the years have not meant to offend. Maybe they’ve known other Deborahs or Debbies who preferred to be called Deb, and they simply got into that habit. Maybe they’re lazy and don’t see a need to say two or three syllables when one will suffice. I would be surprised if any of them consciously believe that they are superior to me. And they all have an excuse—I have not once called anyone on this behavior and said, “No, my name is not Deb. Call me Deborah.”

That stops today.

If you are one of those who has called me by something other than my name, please understand: I am not angry with you. I should have told you before now that I prefer to be called by my name. If you think I don’t mind, if you’ve developed a habit of calling me Deb because you think that’s acceptable to me, that’s my fault. I accept responsibility for my failure to let you know clearly what I prefer.

But from now, going forward, please call me Deborah. Going forward, if you call me Deb, I will correct you. It is not in anger; it is not because you’re not special enough or close enough to me to call me Deb. It’s simply because my name is not Deb.

My name is Deborah.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Letters to My Daughter: Before You Marry

Update 13 November 2012: One of the bloggers to whom I linked heavily in this post has shut down his blog and removed all old posts. Any link going to the Christian Men's Defense Network (CMD-N) no longer works. Until I have time to go through and remove those links, please bear with me if you try to cick through only to discover that the page no longer exists.

Dear Alexa,

As I write this letter to you, you are not even two years old. Not yet old enough to read. Not yet old enough to understand that the difference between boys and girls is more than the way they look in storybook pictures. Certainly not yet old enough to consider a marriage of your own.

Yet, when I think about my hopes and dreams for you, for your future, I see you married. I see you as a contented wife, raising happy children who are secure in the knowledge that their parents are devoted to God, to each other, and to them.

And then I look at the world around me, and what I see worries me. I see that you will grow up in a world in which divorce is common, and marriage is an “until we decide otherwise” proposition. Your world will encourage you to have “fun” in your youth, dating one man after another, having sex with some or many or all of them, destroying your ability to bond for life with the one man to whom you eventually will commit. Even in the church, which is supposed to be a safe place, you will be inundated with feminist messages that will destroy your perception of men, women, and of healthy male-female relationships. I see these things, and I worry.

I worry about whether your father and I will raise you wisely, seeing and avoiding the pitfalls that are so much a part of our culture that they usually aren’t noticed at all. I worry that you will grow up thinking that “girls rule, boys drool,” as the t-shirts so brashly proclaim. I worry that you will grow up thinking that you are a “special snowflake,” so unquestionably wonderful that it’s downright creepy when that nervous but normal guy asks you out on a date. I worry that you will grow up thinking that it’s only natural and normal to give in to your hypergamous instincts, that you will be always on the lookout for the man who’s better than the one you have, so you can trade up.

And I worry that the little boys who will grow into men and potential husbands will be damaged by our culture as well. That they will believe the feminist tripe that a strong man is a dangerous man, that it is a husband’s job to make his wife happy, that it is abusive to believe that a wife should submit to her husband. I worry, also, that the men who refuse the dictates of feminism will decide that today’s women simply aren’t worth the risks that come with commitment.

But I didn’t want this letter to be about my worries. I wanted to tell you that despite the obstacles, it is possible to have a good marriage, a strong marriage, an enduring and happy marriage. It doesn’t just happen, though. It takes work, both before and after the vows are said. This letter was supposed to be about some of the things that must be in place before you walk down that aisle. The things you must know. The things to which you must be willing to commit.

You must know your groom. You will not know him perfectly; there will be plenty left to discover after the vows are said. And I don’t mean that you must know him sexually—that’s much better reserved for after the wedding. But you must know who he is. You must know what he believes about God, about marriage, about child-rearing, about financial decision-making. You must know his goals and dreams. And you must know that he is a man who is not afraid to be a man, to lead, to lead you in particular. You must know that he will lead you in a way that shows his love for you: leading you where you need to go, not always where you want to go; asking for your opinion, but not being ruled by it; accepting the responsibility that comes with leadership, but acknowledging those things for which he can’t be held responsible (your choices, your feelings). You must know that he is a good, wise, trustworthy man.

You must know how you feel and think about your groom. You must know that you respect and trust this man—those are not the things that the world will tell you that he needs most from you, but those are the things that he needs most from you. And you must know that you love him—deeply love him, with all the exciting, romantic feelings that our society defines as love, but also with all the calm, steady feelings of committed affection that will endure when the excitement goes away.

You must know yourself. You must know that you are ready to commit for a lifetime. No matter how young you are, know that this commitment is forever. When you marry, you abandon all other men. It doesn’t matter if you meet the perfect man the day after you say your vows; you have chosen your husband, and you need to be certain that you will stay with him.  You must know that you are willing to follow your husband’s lead, wherever he leads you, for the rest of your life. This is why it’s so important that you know your husband, that you respect his ability to make good choices, that you’re confident in his morality and in his love for you—because the time for you to decide whether or not to follow this man’s lead is before the wedding, not after it. You must recognize that you and your husband both will change over the years, and you must be willing to ensure that as you grow, you don’t grow apart from him. You must commit now to put in effort over the years to develop and maintain common interests. 

Finally, you must know that you are content with the man that your groom is. Not with whom he could become, but with whom he is at the time of your marriage. The chances are good that his career will progress, his income will increase, and he will grow in wisdom over the years, and it would not be surprising if he made changes to his clothing style, his hair style, and even to his opinions on important matters. But you should not marry him hoping or expecting to change him—changes will occur naturally, and you should embrace those changes as you mature together, but you must be content with him, the man you have chosen, as he is. His overall character is unlikely to change, and those little quirks that may or may not have begun to wear on you probably will endure.  You must know, with a certainty, deep down in your bones, that you will be able to live with this man, as he is now. Do not marry a man expecting to change him. If you do, both you and he will be in for a lifetime of disappointment.

Does this list seem impossible? Reading over it, it sounds like these are lofty goals, wonderful ideals that have no place in reality. I can assure you, however, that these things are possible. When your father and I married, people kept asking me “Are you nervous?” and “Are you scared?” and even “How can you possibly say that you will follow his lead, no matter what? What if you know he’s making the wrong choice? What if he changes?” My responses: “Not about the marriage, although some about the wedding itself—I’m nervous that I’ll trip over my heels!”; “Not at all”; and “Because I know him, and I trust him. If I think he’s making a mistake, I’ll tell him so, and I’ll tell him why, but when it comes down to it, he has the final say, and I will trust him. If he does make a mistake, we’ll work through the results together, but I will not undermine him. And if he changes, I’ll deal with it—I trust him.”

If you can’t say that you are completely in love with this man, that you know him well, that you have no doubts about your ability to commit to him and to your marriage in every way, that you are confident in both his willingness and his ability to lead your family wisely, that you can and will submit to his leadership, then I beg you, Alexa: Don’t marry. Until you know these things, don’t marry him or anyone else. I know the fear that you will end up single for the rest of your life, that you won’t ever have a husband or children. I know the urge to marry as soon as you start feeling that biological clock ticking, or you start seeing the good men around you marry other women, or your female friends start marrying and having children. There is a reason for that urge, and I don’t want you to wait too long. But it is better to wait, even to not marry at all, than to marry unwisely.

I have high hopes for you, daughter. Your father and I have a good marriage, a strong marriage. I hope that as you grow up, we continue to have a marriage worth emulating, and that you see what we have, and you want something like it for yourself. I hope that you are able to withstand the temptations that could lead you to make unwise or sinful choices. I hope that you make marriage a priority, but that you make a good marriage, entered into wisely, a higher priority.

Always remember, your mama and your daddy love you.