Recently during a work teleconference, we had a chuckle about a 68-year-old man named Billy. “He’s 68, and he’s still called Billy!” someone shouted out.
(After the laughter died down)
“Don, were you ever a Donnie? Does anybody ever call you that?” asked my boss.
“Well, there are only a select few people who are permitted to”, I explained. “But it does occasionally happen.”
Now that wasn’t the entire truth. You can’t always be totally candid in business situations, lest I be called Donnie by my coworkers for the next five years. However, there are a select group of people who call me Donnie, but I don’t “permit” them to, they just do it naturally. And when it happens, it is a term of endearment and respect. These people knew me as a child, and this is what my dad called me, so this is who I will always be in their minds.
But why didn’t this name stick? What happened along the way from Donnie to Don? I know I still went by Donnie in grade school, a fact confirmed by my childhood friend (not sweetheart, just a friend, and now a Facebook friend) Becky, who said I was still “Donnie” when she moved away in 5th grade. I also know that I had made the conversion to Don, by age 12, when Donny Osmond burst on the scene, because I don’t remember any teasing about my name or being asked to give my rendition of “One Bad Apple”.
So I can assume I made the transition when I entered middle school, right around puberty. As a butterfly sheds its cocoon, I somehow shed that moniker. It was my way of signaling to the world that I was becoming a man! But it would have been fine to stay a Donnie. I have friends my age named Danny, Robbie, Billy and Freddie – all great guys, who turned out okay. My dad was probably not happy about my transition, but I’m sure he understood. I think at some point he even started referring to me as Don, although I suspect I was still Donnie when he was talking with other people. Now it would have been different if I would have gone to Donald (my given name). My father was not much for formalities and this would have been frowned upon. But I’m his son so there was really no chance I would become a Donald. And I’m glad I didn’t because I know there are some people named Donald who talk too much and are so egotistical, and that is so not me! (cough, cough)
Ironically, the guys in high school seldom referred to me as Don. I was Ake or some variation of that name. Ake is short, unique, and easily said, - you can actually grunt it without using your lips or tongue, so the gang called me that. The girls did call me Don – but they didn’t call me often! (ba-dum-bum-CHING!)
But now, if it is a long-time friend or relative, it is definitely Donnie. It is always Donnie. And it will forever be Donnie. Becky says it is difficult for her to think of me as a “Don”. I had probably been dating my future wife for over a year when she heard me called Donnie for the first time. I think she was initially stunned, then highly amused. When we were back in the car, it was “Donnie? Really – Donnie!”. So I had to explain to her this deep, dark, secret from my past. Interestingly, she is the only person who ever calls me Donald. This, after I do or say something incredibly stupid. Of course, you all know I am not prone to making crass or inappropriate statements, so she only calls me Donald about as often as it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun. (cough, cough)
Now on my recent trip to Pennsylvania to meet my new, well actually old, cousins, the “Donnies” flowed freely during our meal. This made me wonder why this version of my name is so engraved in the psyche of those “select few” described earlier. It’s not like I enjoy saying and publicizing my name over and over just for the thrill of it. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, so stop it. Things and people change over time, and besides, I had not written a book, oh excuse me two books, back then.
Then I figured out the answer to this riddle. But to understand this, we need to travel back to my vacation in St. Augustine in 2002. The first day there I was relaxing, reading a book on the hotel balcony, when the tranquility of the moment was shattered by a booming Australian voice: TREVA, LOOK TREVA. WE ARE AT THE HOTEL TREVA, LETS GO INSIDE, TREVA. For the next four days we were first annoyed, and then entertained with: TREVA, JUMP IN THE POOL TREVA. THROW ME THE BALL TREVA. LOOK TREVA IT’S A DOLPHIN! TREVA, TREVA, TREVA, TREVA! I have no idea what the father’s name was, but I know his son’s name was Trevor and I don’t recall ever hearing Trevor say a word. Yes, it was excessive, but it demonstrated how much the guy cared for his son.
Well, this means my father must have said my name, “Donnie”, often when I was young, to everyone he encountered. It means he talked about me a lot, maybe even excessively. It means I was cherished. There are reasons why I was so beloved, but that’s a whole other blog post (which may get written some day). And it’s just perplexing why this occurrence took me so long to figure out. So when an old friend or relative refers to me as Donnie, it’s just a testament of my father’s love for me.