Seventeen years ago our son Whitman, our senior son, arrived. He came early. Perhaps he knew he had to: a month before, his grandfather Melvin (Susan's father) had lost his year-long fight to cancer; a week later, his grandfather Jerry (my father) would lose his own year-long battle to a different cancer.
We named him Aidan at first, for the one who helps others; then we named him Whitman; then we thought of our great fathers, wonderful men who represented the best of their generations, and named him: Whitman Robert Aidan Dykman Burke.
It's a lot of name, but we felt called to honor so many at that time.
They would be so proud, those two fathers, those two grandfathers who never saw or got to meet him. But the news of him, the knowledge that he was coming kept them company during that long year before their departure, when we would drive to our hometown of Sacramento, return to the childhood homes, to parents, to the end of one era and the arrival of the next.
So it seems that since the day of his arrival he has been a blessing to those who know him. As for all those names: He doesn't think they are strange, they are all he's ever known. When, however, we went to fetch him from camp a few years ago, we asked all over for Whitman, and no one knew anyone by that name. Finally, I saw him and said to the counselor, "There...that's him over there!" a little peeved no doubt that they hadn't come to know and appreciate our son.
To which the counselor said, "That kid? Oh that's Bob! Everyone knows Bob!" When we asked him about telling everyone his name was Bob, he grinned and said it seemed like such a strange and fun name, so he decided to just tell everyone that was his name that week.
Well, that's our Whitman...