Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My name

My name is Michael Scott Dodd. I understand that I was named for a friend of my father, a man whose name was Michael Scott. I never met him and, other than being told that I was named for him, never heard anything more about him that I recall. It may have been that my parents simply liked the sound of the name, especially when joined to my surname. It does have a certain rhythm to it, and I have always liked my name.
I remember my mother talking about a Mike Rambo, a boy from Huntsville who was a little older than me. His mother (I think, or grandmother) often babysat for us when we lived on Hazel Avenue. Anyway Mama always talked as if there were some connection with his name and my name. I don’t know if this was because she knew him as a little boy before I was born, or if it was just that she thought he was a cute little boy and the story got mixed in with how I got my name.
At any rate, when I was born in 1950, Michael/Mike was the most popular boy’s name in America. It had been for a few decades and would continue to be for a few decades more. When I was in school in Huntsville, four of the fifteen boys in my class were named Michael. We were variously called Mike, Mikey and so on.
My name is ordinary enough that it never created serious problems for me growing up. Once I hit high school, the combination “Mike Dodd” led to a nickname of “Milk Dud”, soon simplified to just Dud. It may have bothered me some when it started, but I think I liked the fact that I mattered enough to have been given even a slightly derogatory nickname, and I began to use it myself, sometimes signing letters as “Dud.”
I remember when I went to Michigan State, people referred to me as “Mike Dodd” or sometimes “Michael Dodd”. (Part of that was to distinguish me from all those other Michaels out there. After all, there were over 40,000 students when I was there, and a big chunk of those were guys named Michael.) At the beginning of my sophomore year, one of my friends brought his younger brother up from Detroit to help him move back into the dorm. The brother expressed an interest in meeting me. Why? Because he had heard stories about Mike/Michael Dodd all summer. He had never heard anyone called consistently by first and last name except for the Peanuts character, Charlie Brown. I think he thought I was a little bit Charlie Brownish. I wish I had owned a t-shirt with the signature zigzag stripe. That would have thrown him for a loop.
Throughout this period, my family, Huntsville friends and some other people called me Mike most of the time. When I entered the monastery, where shortened names or nicknames were not customary, I became Brother Michael. And Michael I have called myself ever since. Family and people who have known me for many years still tend to call me Mike. I am intrigued by the fact that although I always introduce myself to new people as Michael, the majority immediately start calling me Mike. I am sometimes asked which I prefer, and I usually say I prefer Michael but will answer to Mike, because I have certainly been called worse.
In the monastery at the time I entered (October 1972), the old custom of changing one’s baptismal name when one made religious profession had fallen out of favor. These things are cyclical, and within a matter of five years, the custom was making a comeback. But it was not done in 1972 when I entered nor in 1974 when I made my first profession. So I did not take another name. I had considered taking Damien, because that was the name I had taken when I was confirmed. I took it for St. Damien of Molokai, the priest who had worked with lepers and eventually contracted and died from their disease. I got the idea partly from the book The Exorcist and partly from my growing awareness of my sexual orientation. The movie, The Omen, in which the son of the Devil is Damien had not come out yet, but after it did, whenever I mentioned anything about my confirmation name being Damien, people tended to look at me suspiciously. I did not get to change my name, at any rate, although some years later I used Damien Scott as a pseudonym when I published a poem.
Although Discalced Carmelites at the time kept their original names, we did add a religious title or phrase to the name, in the manner of “John of the Cross” or “Teresa of Jesus.” This was an old custom that had to do with letting go of one’s family of origin and entering into the larger family of God. The title usually referred to a favorite saint or particular part of the Christian faith that was central to one’s own identity. I became “Brother Michael of Christ Crucified”, a title I took because I love the paradoxical nature of the reference from the first chapter of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:

“[W]e preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, but unto those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see in your calling, brethren, how not many wise men according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”

From 1972 until May 1979 people called me Brother Michael. We hardly ever used last names. I got so used to this that once I answered the phone and the person on the other end asked to speak to Mike Dodd. I had already begun to say, “There is no one here by that name” when I realized he wanted to talk to me.
After my ordination on May 30, 1979, I became Father Michael. The Discalced Carmelites in the Oklahoma Province were somewhat formal in matters of address. I think it was a combination of southern formality with Spanish formality, the province having been founded by friars who came from Spain about fifty years before I was born.
After the ordination, I traveled around the province, visiting the houses of the friars and nuns, offering Mass and being treated with new respect as Father Michael. I confess to being a bit disappointed, therefore, when my superior called me in a few days after I returned. He had decided that since ours was a small community, four priests at the time, and we were all priests, the time had come to drop our in-house formality and begin referring to one another by first name only.
What could I say? I admit my ego wanted to say it wasn’t fair, that I had worked hard for seven years to be called Father Michael and now I wanted to be called Father Michael.  The better part of me prevailed, however, and I accepted this reminder that I was, in the end, just me. Call me Brother, call me Father, call me Ishmael – I am still just me.
But, as they say in the joke, enough about me.
Well, not really. More to follow.

1 comment:

Mitchell is Moving said...

This is fascinating. I was named Mitchell Scott for completely different reasons. And no one ever called me Father Mitchell!