Monday, August 21, 2006


My father named me. My mother wanted to name me Penny. Daddy wasn’t having it so my birth certificate declares my name to be Deborah Denice Fletcher. As a little girl no one was allowed to call me Debby. My father went absolutely ballistic if they did. I still cringe every time I remember him announcing quite loudly and in a tone that left people quaking in their shoes that “her name is Deborah, NOT Debby. Deb-or-ah!”. It was particularly embarrassing in grade school at those parent-teacher conferences when he would quickly correct a teacher or another parent, or even worse, one of my peers. Back then I absolutely detested it. I wanted to be called Debby. Debby was cute, and fun, and popular, and when you’re the only little black girl in a sea of white children, you desperately want to be popular. Deborah was stuffy, stuck-up, not liked, and different. She didn’t mesh with the Cindy’s and Kathy's or the Laurie’s and Vivian's. Debby was included in the cliques and clubs. Deborah wasn’t included in much of anything.

My father was not an easy man. He was demanding, and controlling, and I remember that to a little girl he could be quite mean and scary. But he was very much a hands-on father, dictating every aspect of my childhood. His presence was undeniable and unwavering. Today, I realize that although I am very much a “daddy’s girl”, my father and I are still like oil and water. We’ve been butting heads since the day I was born. Him saying don’t and me doing it anyway was more the norm for us than not. I didn’t have a desperate need to be daddy’s “good” little girl. I believe he actually LIKED me because I wasn’t. I wasn’t afraid to take risks and I believe my father found that to be an admirable trait. We last clashed shortly after my seventeenth birthday, and over the man who would later become my husband. My father had issued an ultimatum, pushing me into a corner. I pushed back and we went almost two years without seeing or speaking one word to each other. During that time I got married and my father was not there to walk me down the aisle. The marriage has endured. Thankfully, the silence between my father and I did not.

When my first book was published my editor asked what name I wanted to be published under. Over the years I’ve frequently drifted between Deborah and Debby. I remember the moment clearly, when the name, Deborah Fletcher Mello, came rolling off my tongue. I knew, in that instant, that my name would honor not only who I was, but also the person whose influence had helped me get there. And I really wanted to honor my father and his love.

A few years ago my father suffered a massive stroke. It has left him partially incapacitated but it has surely not stopped him. He insists on doing some things he probably shouldn’t. That insistence can be overly frustrating but I understand and respect it. Although he struggles to be the same man he was before the stroke, he isn’t. But where his body fails him, his determination more than makes up for it. He is still mean, still demanding, still controlling, and even a little scary. But he is still my father, being my father, his love undeniable and unwavering. And, he is still one of the few persons who calls me Deborah, absolutely refusing to call me anything else.

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