The Parent Trap: What’s in a name? A lot, actually

As I’ve said to my son on far too many occasions, I am not that far removed from my high school years to have forgotten what it was like to be 16 years old. I remember the awkwardness and the boredom in school. I can still recall getting angry with my parents over chores or behavior.

But I always made it a point to draw the line at outward disdain. I also never made the mistake of comparing my father to, say, one of the most hated men on the planet. Sadly, a play on that monster’s name has become my son’s favorite moniker for me in his most stressful of times.

Yes, in my home, I am sometimes referred to as “Dadolf Hitler.” Or, on his nicer days, it is toned down to “Dad Jong-il.” These names don’t pop up all the time. If I ask him to feed the cat or make his bed, I might simply be greeted by the anonymous grunting that is part of the teenager’s code. But when something heinous like homework or cleaning is brought into the mix, grunting often turns to comparing me to men who’ve brought death and misery to millions.

Times like those make me wish that my kid was being taught ancient history this school year, instead of current events. I could probably deal with a name like “Genghis Dad.” But it rightfully bothers me to have my behavior compared to Hitler. There’s a lot of negative power in that name, and it is not likely to go away any time soon. That’s why you don’t see a lot of babies getting named Adolf. Or Genghis, for that matter.

I know that he doesn’t mean anything by it, that a lot of it has to do with the fact that his autism gets in the way. But it still has meaning to me, and I tell him so. The references haven’t stopped yet, but I’m trying. My daughter doesn’t resort to such name calling, preferring to simply tell me that I’m mean. And sometimes, I do feel mean. I don’t like being the one to force people to do their homework or get to bed. But that’s the way it’s played out in our little home.

“Somebody has to be the bad guy,” my mother is fond of telling me. Her reasoning is that in any family, one parent has to be the disciplinarian. That job comes with its fair share of aggravation. Kids, particularly teenagers, try to do what they want, all the time. When they can’t get what they want, most are not shy about letting us know.

Now, I’ve never been a fan of comparisons. Nobody wants to be told that they should be more like a sibling or cousin. But I’d rather be compared to a family member than someone who tried to take over the free world. I thought at first that on the good days, I could offset the bad comparisons with somebody like Roosevelt or Gandhi. But to tell you the truth, it’s much better when things are going swimmingly, and I’m called just plain Dad.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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