My name is officially changed… it took two years when it should have taken six weeks, but the last piece of my father’s identity has been removed from my wallet.
My new birth certificate came in the mail yesterday. It’s purple. It has the name I was born with in the “old” column and the one I’ve chosen to replace it with in the “new” column.
I started the process in April, 2006, by getting the application from my local MPP. The easy part was choosing the replacement name because I’ve actually been using my mom’s maiden name since a year after the divorce in 1978, because in Canada, as long as you’re not trying to commit fraud, you can actually use whatever name you want.
So since I was about nine I’ve had two different names. Until now my Official name, the one on my original birth certificate, went like this… Gabriel, then my father’s Given Name followed by his Family Name. So Gabriel Father Father.
But since the divorce all of my school, health, tax, disability and work records are filed under Gabriel Father Mom, with only my Social Insurance Number under Gabriel Father Father. It really only made things difficult when I was applying for social assistance… funny story, during the years when I needed to be on welfare I tried to make it a point to have the records under my father’s family name.
Even though I rarely used his name it was still a block to my life. It prevented me from doing certain things. Like getting a drivers licence. One of the reasons I didn’t apply for college or university sooner was because my high school guidance counsellor told me, mistakenly, I’d have to make the change official before making the application. The person at the Ministry of Transportation told me the same thing about the licence.
Back in high school I was really hesitant about making the change. Tearing my father from my identity was something I didn’t know how to do, and it’s not something a child should be asked to do on his own. I also didn’t know what was laying past that curtain.
Plus I was still asking questions about who he was… and trying to figure out what parts of me came from him. I actually got involved in student politics for a few weeks until someone called me their “leader”, and an image of him as the head of the political collective I grew up in popped in my head so I quit. Eventually my father’s name just slid into the dark.
My new name is Gabriel Grandfather Mom. I chose my grandfather’s name, Victor, to be my middle name partly because I decided “Johnny ” was just too irreverent and I wanted the name to have some meaning… plus, at that moment, he was the only man in my life I could think of who meant anything.
I admit I had some expectations in my head when I chose the name. When I finally told my grandparents about the new name those expectations just felt silly. There were no hugs, no clap on the back or firm handshake. My grandfather just kept doing whatever he had been doing and my grandmother asked why I would even bother.
I realized in that second that I had made a mistake. Not because of their approval or disapproval of the name, but because I’m still not even sure where my grandfather fits in my life.
Basically I feel like I’m swapping a jackass for a mule and trying to convince myself it’s really Secretariat.
My grandfather was someone who, during my first nine years, I saw for a few days a year at his hobby farm. There are a few photos of us together, including one of me sitting behind the wheel of a tractor and him standing beside me. Him bare chested, tall with a management gut and a handkerchief tied around his head. Me, two-years old and in diapers, long blond hair and a red shirt holding the steering wheel and smiling.
It’s like I can point to his achievements and see one man, see the man who anyone would want as a grandfather or mentor… but then I pull back and realize he hasn’t taught me anything. It wasn’t desperation, I was never desperate to have a father. Desperation, to me, means understanding you’re doing without something. I never understood what was missing.
My father abdicated all responsibility a few years after I was born. Even though we lived in the same house I spent the first nine-years of my life not even knowing who my real father was. Growing up like that is like being born blind and assuming everyone else is as well. You have to be told a sense is missing.
When I was with my grandfather it was like seeing shapes through a haze. You’re aware of a new sensation, and even though it’s partial you feel like it’s a whole. Like you thought you had everything, but here’s this new thing. And you love it… like I loved my grandfather and thought I was whole for having the days and weeks with him.
My grandfather had led a remarkable life. As an engineer he worked on most of the largest construction projects in Canada. He was project manager on the Churchill Falls Dam and the Mount Macdonald Tunnel in the Rocky Mountains, which is still the longest railway tunnel in the Americas. Thanks t mom his papers are now housed in the Canadian Centre For Architecture in Montreal where he became the first non-architect to be inducted.
Being a boy in search of a father he was the easiest solution. But he didn’t want to be a father to two more kids. He didn’t even want to be a grandfather. When my brother and I were four and five we called him “Pepere” (grandfather) until he sat us down and told us “I’m not old enough to be a grandfather, you can call me Bud but never Pepere”.
When we visited my grandparents at their hobby farm in Quebec he would take us to church on Sunday. The service was in French, a language we didn’t speak. Then it was a hot dog at a local diner, and then visiting people on the way back to the farm. But it was like my brother and I weren’t even there. We couldn’t speak to him in church, or when we ate or when we visited people.
We couldn’t ask him questions because we’d frustrate him with their frequency. Instead of teaching us how to work a chainsaw or a hammer he’d have us stand quietly behind him while he worked. But I paid attention, I watched and even thought I was learning something important. But I was an illiterate holding a book and fooled into thinking it was the spaces between the letters that meant something. He wasn’t a mentor, he was tolerating us because his wife was tired of us being in the house with her.
…this is how it works. My grandfather resents my grandmother. My grandmother resents my grandfather. They both resent my mom. Over the past two years Mom has become convinced she was conceived out of wedlock, thereby condemning her parents to a long, long life together.
Whether my mom is right, or the break in that relationship came from somewhere else, my mom was definitely abused by her mom physically and mentally, and neglected by her father.
As proof of her theory mom points to the fact her parents have given my mom nothing, but given her brother everything. Cars, mortgage payments and recently a two-week trip to Cuba. In the will my uncle gets properties, stocks and cash worth seven figures, my mom gets $25,000 so she “won’t be a burden on her husband”. Direct quote from the will.
So mom runs away from home and marries my father, who’s ten-years older than her. My father abuses her emotionally and abandons her and their children. Which leaves me searching for a father figure and finding it in the first man who abandoned her… but he’s still not interested in being a father to her or her offspring.
My uncle’s two oldest children received a paid education, while his son’s hockey equipment was paid for every year. My grandfather has never missed a game. My grandfather is not a monster. He did things for me, he taught me how to drive. But he was a hockey star in Ontario when he was a young man yet never taught my brother or myself how to skate.
I’ve slowly discovered that over my entire life I’ve been caught in the middle of a much longer Cold War between my grandfather, grandmother and my mother.
I don’t think I’ll change my name again until after he has passed on. But I am going to change it… I’ll probably end up keeping his last name. All of my press clippings are in that name so it would be too complicated to be changing it now.
The relationship between my grandfather and myself has gotten a lot more complicated over the past two years… but I’ll write about that later.
It is interesting to note, however, that once my brother changes his name from Him Mother Father to Him Mother Mother, our father will have released five children to the world but none of them have his name. That actually makes me smile.
oh gabriel…this just makes me so achingly sad….it’s not fair, not at all.
I wish tears could fix things, or anger.
It is ashamed to have this happen to children. I come from a very messed up group of people. You are helping me more than you could ever know. While I am trying to help someone whom could be my brother. I consider him a brother. That can’t heal his pain. Thanks for the insight.
You don’t know me from Adam, but I really wish I could give you a great big hug. No one should have to go through that!
Thank you for this story. As others have said, no one should have to go through that. I’m interested in the name change. I have my given first and middle name, then my ex’s name, which sucks. My children also have that last name, but still. I wanted to change it when I got remarried, but since the marriage wasn’t “legal,” I didn’t. I don’t like my original birth name and I don’t have much connection to my father or his family. I don’t want my wife’s father’s last name (which is what she has). My mother’s maiden name is OK but unusual, and I think I’d feel odd telling my relatives who have that name that I am taking it also. I’m down to my grandmother’s maiden name, or a completely made up name. Now that my marriage has taken place, I’m looking ahead to my 50th birthday in (God willing) four years. I think it would be weird to have ANY name on a tombstone. Gah – I hope I figure this out while I’m still alive!
It really is pitiful when people are not able to see the beauty of a child. The vulnerability of a child. The love of a child. That some people can not get over themselves long enough to try to experience the pure joy and unselfishness that a child can bring to their life is just unexcusable.
They missed the most pure, unadulterated joy there is in life, the joy you could have brought them as their grandchild. It’s a shame.
I kept on trying to write about how shitty I felt for you without simply repeating what the people above said… but the words just wouldn’t come.
No one should have to go through that.
Thanks Spaks, and everyone else, for the empathy. When it comes to a name, Lydia, I’d go with something in the family. Try taking a look back a few generations, there may be a great-aunt or grandmother in your tree with a name worth holding onto.
You’ve had an achingly horrible time and it’s difficult to find ways to come to some sort of resolution over it all. I hope you will. And a rose by any other name really is still the same. You are always you.
I hate that I feel so apathetic right now. Yes, a touching story, but the point of the story is that you regret changing your name. I think the story alone is worthy of a post, but in connecting it to the name change I think you’re just making a big deal of it, sort of. A name is just a name and does not in any way define you. Sure some names are prettier than others, but I think you went through a lot of trouble just to get it changed and now you even feel you made a mistake.
It’s unfortunate, but maybe you should have given it a bit more thought before actually going through with it. And in way, by having your grandfather’s name you gave him a sort of victory.
=\ Sorry if I sound cruel. Just not too empathetic at the moment.
Hello Brigitte. I think you’ve got it backwards… the name change thing is a symptom, the disease is the treatment I’ve received from the “fathers” in my life. I feel like I’ve made a mistake by changing it to the one I did only because the change itself made me reevaluate my relationship with my grandfather…
The name change itself was the right thing to do, and the actual process is very easy. It should have taken six weeks… actually it did take six weeks, I just procrastinated for almost two years to get the paperwork sent to me. The difficulty came in the decision to take the last pieces of my father’s identity out of mine.
You’re not coming across as cruel, just… confused. There are no victories here… that’s not the way it works. If anything, telling my grandfather I’ve taken his name Might allow him to feel some absolution. But I doubt very much that my grandfather has ever felt he has done anything wrong to begin with… he’s not an overtly cruel man, if he felt he had done something wrong he would have apologized to his daughter decades ago.
As for my father… he needs to be recognized as a martyr — the only thing that gets him out of bed is to have his community see him sacrifice something — so my dumping his name will actually keep him alive a while longer… he needs the martyrdom so apologizing to any of the dozens and dozens of people he has hurt and even destroyed over his adult life is unlikely.
Victories only come when the people you’re playing with know there’s a consequence to losing.
Thanks for commenting Brigitte.
And you as well, XUP… I think there’ll be some resolution. This is all stuff I should have been thinking about fifteen or more years ago, but the untreated manic depression was in the way. The past couple of years, the clarity coming from the treatment, has already led to a lot of stuff getting fixed.