Father's day tale: A dad by any other name is still dad

You've heard of  "A Boy Named Sue," Johnny Cash's song of a kid and his no-account father.

As the lyrics explain, the deadbeat dad "named me Sue."

I can't top that tale, but my dad could, sort of, because when he was born in a small Kentucky town in 1912, his parents named him Shirley. Really.

In "A Boy Named Sue," the words explain, "Well, he must o' thought that is quite a joke and it got a lot of laughs from lots of folk ... I had to fight my whole life through. Some gal would giggle and I'd get red and some guy'd laugh and I'd bust his head. Life ain't easy for a boy named Sue." 

Could it be my Dad, an easygoing, soft-spoken guy, had trouble as a child because he was a Shirley?

In my teens I asked him about that, wondering why even family friends and loved ones called him Shirley yet it never seemed to bother him.

He explained that Shirley was his middle name, as in, "William Shirley Farmer," but his father's first name was William, too, so his mother Molly and siblings called Dad Shirley to avoid confusion.

Years ago I taped an oral history with my dad and asked him about the Shirley thing.

"In my mother's ancestry in England and Scotland, Shirley was a boy's name, much like Laurie, Evelyn, Carroll and others. And I loved using that name. It always was a conversation icebreaker," he said with a grin.

"I belonged to a church group for young people that had a summer camp every year in Cadiz, Ky.

"The boys had one side of the camp, the girls the other. We'd stay for a week. I remember that the first time I went there, I was assigned to the girls' side because of my name.

"But they wouldn't let me stay, even though I said, 'That's all right, I'll stay, I'll make out OK.' They firmly said no."

My dad wasn't the only Farmer kid with an unusual name. Among his brothers' names were Porter, Delmar and Estell. He also had a sister named Lorene and another named Virgie. Not Virginia, just Virgie. And he had a cousin named Texel, a guy.

The family-with-funny-names syndrome included my mother Doris. Her name confused my dad's family because of their penchant for quaint names: "Dorris" with two "r"s is a man's name in the U.K.

One thing was for sure in that family. Nobody could ever find their names on a mug sold on those convenience store revolving racks.

Come to think of it, there might well have been a "Shirley" on a mug somewhere. A pink mug.

Happy Father's Day to dads everywhere.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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