I always had a hard time naming my children.
I mean, you want to pick a name that’s going to match their personality, but how can you do that when he or she is a tiny screaming creature with only seconds of life experience?
Maybe I’m overly sensitive about this because I went through grade school with a name that sounds like the gem on an engagement ring.
“Oh, are you forever?” “Oh, do you think you’re a girl’s best friend?” Etcetera.
I’m not bitter. It made me a stronger person. Etcetera.
But when the time came to name my own children, I told Bess I wanted to play it safe and so we did: Cary, Robert, Will and Joe. When you’re 13, nobody’s going to ask you why in the world your mama named you Will.
That’s the name of our third child, the one who’s now 18 and graduated from high school on Thursday night.
And yes, he turned out to be a Will: Friendly, funny, comfortable in his own skin.
Of course, Will is always short for something, usually William. Our Will is short for Wilhite, which was the middle name of his mother’s mother’s father.
That man’s full name was Harvey Wilhite Riggs, and when I met him he was 95 years old and had a huge shock of dark hair befitting a teenager.
Bess and I knew we wanted our second son to have the middle name Wilhite and be called Will, but what name was the teacher going to recite at roll call? Was it really going to be Harvey?
We played it safe and gave him the first name of Thomas. Looking back, that wasn’t necessary.
This was the kid who as a sixth grader wanted me to take him to basketball tryouts at middle school. I didn’t have time and – great parenting here – told him he wasn’t going to make the team anyway.
He looked me dead in the eye – he was 11 years old – and told me I was right he wasn’t going to make the team, but that I was depriving him of the opportunity to experience failure, which was known to build character. To be really successful, he was going to need to fail a lot.
“Who are you?” I said. “Abraham Lincoln?”
As a child, Will wanted to go straight to being an adult. He refused to order off the child’s menu, and ate an entire Ranger Burger on his 5-year-old birthday.
He would spend hours in the yard with a toy lawnmower, leaf blower and weedeater, and he made a different noise for each. He did this so loudly that he developed screamer’s nodes, which he enjoyed because it gave him a deep, manly voice.
Will was always striking up conversations with adults. He’d walk up to some guy on the street and say, “Hey, I like your truck.”
He’d do the little things he’d see adults do. As a 6-year-old catcher in coach-pitch baseball, he’d cover his mouth with his glove when talking to other players. You know, so the other team couldn’t read his lips. He’d seen that on TV.
For the middle school Halloween carnival, he shaved the top of his head like a monk, dressed up in burlap and knelt like Tim Tebow in the middle of the gym. Everybody went crazy and he won a large cash prize.
Really, he hasn’t changed. He keeps watching and learning, and most of all doing: meeting people and making friends, picking a side and arguing it, helping others in need.
And yes, he’s got really big hair, just like his great-grandfather.
Hey Will, you could have handled being named Harvey.
Because you can handle anything. Congrats on what you’ve done, and on what you’re going to do. We love you.