Feb 2019 21

My 90 year-old dad continues to stay one step ahead of death. In his 7th day in the hospital, still no definitive answers on what is trying to kill him other than old age. It’s possible the pneumonia has just alerted doctors to some other issue. Like taking your car in for the alternator and finding out the alternator is only fucked because of a bigger thing going on. More tests. But in the meantime, making the most of this time. Tonight’s topic – why they named me ‘Andrew’. Do you know the story of your own name? Mine is a tale of the ocean, bliss, and wanderlust.

Recently, a friend asked me if I identified with my name, ‘Andrew’.

Did I feel I am an Andrew? In a time where we can change or renounce anything we were assigned at birth – your gender, sexual identity, male pattern baldness, nose, lips, or flat buttock cheeks – did I identify with something as basic as my name?

I’d never really thought about it. I’ve always just been that. Andrew. I was never called ‘Andy’ or ‘Drew’. My sister calls me ‘Ange’, but that’s yet another short form of ‘Andrew’. And one friend has always thought I should go by something more exotic-sounding to reflect my diverse background, like ‘Andreas’.

My name was neither something that shaped me, nor misrepresented me. Rather, I’ve always thought I give meaning to my name.

My parents named me ‘Andrew’. It means ‘Strong and manly’, hilariously. For those who know me, I’m all of 5’3″ on a good day.

But there’s more. I’m Andrew Francis Bradley, to be precise. And someone in the family had this name before me. It was my great-grandfather’s full name. I was named after him.

Why? Frankly, I’ve never asked. But tonight, I did.

My dad is lying in a hospital bed for the seventh straight night. Two days ago, I didn’t think he would still be here among the living. But he is. Although there are some positive signs about his chances, now is certainly the time to talk about anything I might want to know. Besides, he has no TV in his room and there is nothing to do but talk, when he has the breath and strength, and we have finished talking about the food, weather, Trump (“that asshole”), baseball, or the Liberals SNC-Lavalin unravelling.

“Dad. Why did you name me after your Grandfather?”

“What, ‘Andrew’?”

“Yes, but you gave me his full name. His middle name, too.”

“Well, we all just loved him. All of us boys (my dad grew up with 4 brothers) did.”

I have heard a few stories about him, second-hand from cousins. Born around 1870. Lived into his mid 90s. Nicknamed ‘The Old Buck’. Widowed before my dad was born.

“So, what was he like?”

My dad closed his eyes and smiled, remembering. He looked happy. Or as happy as someone can look when they’re lit by a flourescent light at the head of their hospital bed that they’ve been in for six days.

“He was so much fun. As a boy, every night in Belize City, I knew exactly where to find him and I’d go see him. There he would be, standing at the waterfront by the Baron Bliss monument.”

For those of you who have never been to Belize City, it is a port city. My dad was born in 1928, and grew up in a house on Regent Street near the mouth of the river point of entry on the waterfront. We could get into a long history of Belize (previously British Honduras) here going back to the 1700s about mahogany wood to England, slaves, and rum. But for now, let’s keep it about the waterfront.

The Baron Bliss monument he is talking about was erected in 1885. It is still there today. It is a lighthouse on the waterfront built to honour Baron Henry Bliss, a British traveller who never actually set foot on Belize soil, but spent his last days sick, on his anchored boat just offshore, and gazing at the beauty of the mainland. He left a tidy sum of money for the citizens of Belize, in trust, which even today provides educational and health programs. March 9th, the day of his demise, is a National Holiday in Belize.

So, back to my great-grandfather and my dad as a boy. And how he would find that era’s Andrew Francis Bradley every night at the monument.

My dad paused, remembering a little more, and the sound of oxygen whispered through the tubes in his nostrils.

“He was always standing there alone, just watching the ocean and the boats. I’d walk down there to spend some time with him and talk, and then he’d walk me back home.”

My dad continued.

“Everybody loved him. And he tried everything in life. He was a Minister at one time. He was a gambler. He owned a piece of land that he farmed on. He lived in Honduras for years on all kinds of schemes and adventures and when he came back, I was a teenager. His best friend his whole life was Karl Heusner, the Doctor whom the main hospital in Belize is named after.”

“Did he sail?”

Sailing is big in my family’s history. I have let everyone down as someone who can barely swim.

“Oh gosh, yes. He had a boat called ‘The Spook’. Fast boat.”

I have never heard my father talk about his own father (this Andrew Francis Bradley’s son) with such admiration. He has never said anything bad about him either. Instead, through family stories I have pieced together from cousins, I have learned my dad’s own dad was actually maybe not such a great guy at all, but my father didn’t want to poison me with that information. It’s not his style. He likes people to form their own opinions.

I now see how it is possible that all the reverential feelings I’ve had for my own Grandfather my whole life are actually the result of the residual love my dad has felt for his own Grandfather, this Andrew Francis Bradley.

When I was a boy and he talked about how great Grandads are – he actually meant his own.

It turns out my father named me after his favourite man.

This is the story of my name.

I am Andrew Francis Bradley.

It is my name, but it comes with a responsibility. An echo.

It is my name, but also belongs to something bigger that I’m only starting to understand. A connection across generations telling me who I am, and where I came from.

Yes, maybe finally, I identify with it.

 

PICTURED: The original Andrew Francis Bradley, seated. Circa 1900, Belize City.

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