What’s In a Name?

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By Robert Whelan

Her birth certificate says one thing.

It goes into the public record as such. But what is her real name?

All kinds of people contribute to metaphorical adventure.

They all have:

  • Different labels
  • Different characteristics
  • Different tasks
  • Different identities
  • Equal value

This metaphorical adventure is my observation of the development of an identity.The thesis here is that, as a representation of our being, our label should be descriptive of what we are and do. Our tasks and functions. It is our identity. It helps us fit in with all other created identities. These identities make life possible. Without them there is nothing.

Our contribution to these adventures is crucial to our effectiveness. Our worth…

Women see it more clearly than men. They already have been given. a built-in contribution factor. To bear a child. They are one up on the understanding of what is required in the critical task of raising a child. Their counsel deserves a minimum of equal consideration.

Every adventure is a project given to us in time, to help define our metaphorical identity

We need to understand it, as it rolls out its results and lessons learned. In a sense it`s lessons learned should become a guide to others who face life`s challenges. If they can be more clearly seen as metaphors, then we have a better chance of making right choices.

Since women begin with a clearer understanding of life`s requirements than men, let me start by viewing my late wife`s journey toward her life identity.

She was a partner. Sounds simple, but not every wife (or husband) has achieved that status. It requires a surrender. A surrender of egotistical desire. An ability to subordinate one`s own likes and abilities to the good of the partnership. The partnership then becomes, in itself, an identity. And in such, a surrender of individual ego for the sake of joint achievement. Achievement dependent upon sharing and supporting what is needed to fulfill a life of positive value.

My partner came into this world as a Butler.

Let us examine the Butler label.

That is the label of the genealogical component of her name.

As such, it, like the Whelan of my genealogical inheritance, is subject to refinement.

What is a Butler?

Modern definition according to Wikipedia:

Titles such as, majordomo, butler administrator, house manager, manservant, staff manager, chief of staff, staff captain, estate manager and head of household staff are sometimes given.

Stretching it a little, one could apply house manager, or chief of staff, to some of her characteristics, but in the main, the concept of Butler misses the mark. Especially, where servitude might be implied. Helper, supporter, partner, yes, but she was never anybody’s servant.

Her attitude was compliant, and reasonable, but always completely independent. A tribute to her Irish heritage. Her sense of irony and humor was always visible, and its influence was contagious. She laughed a lot and, in her later years, was notorious as a joke teller. Had she a desire, she could have been, like a lot of Irish, a whimsical storyteller.

Metaphoric understanding was at the forefront of her being. It came out very clearly in a little letter she composed to her brother-in-law implying that it was written by his dog. The dog had been acting up and his family was obliged to have him put away. It follows

Dear Bill:
Seeing that we don’t get a chance to be alone and since I am unable to have a good heart to heart talk. Of necessity, I must write this letter. I know how loyal you have been to me over the years and that is why I am laying the cards on the table.

I know the pressure has been on you and it seems there just isn’t room enough for me and the lady under the same roof. You have been a true friend thru fire and brimstone. My decision was made after a great deal of thought.

True, I have been naughty at times, and overstepped the line, but the boredom around here became so unmitigated, I just couldn’t stop myself . So I have a little fun with the cat now and then – they all break up and lose their heads- the gang I mean. But they’re so delicious and its such good sport. I just can’t control myself!!! I hope you understand. I have tried for your sake – but I have failed you. You just can’t please that gang! – so I bark a little. What do they expect? A few bars of Swannie??

I must tell you Bill – I do sit back and get a big chuckle when I do these things – it really keeps things swingin around there. A little unbridled bedlam is good for the soul now and then. You know what I mean…

Please keep this to yourself – man to man and all that jazz. I’ve had my problems too – a gorgeous canine swaggers by –!!- Now I’m not the most paralyzing sensual creature in the world – so I had to rely on my other talents – ever tried sniffing with a muzzle? Talk about decayed passion!!!. I’ve felt for some time that that muzzle has got to go! So I ate it! – don’t tell em though. Their uninhabited little faces looked all over hell for it last week and they blamed the chubby one for losing it – I pulled one over`em that time – eh Bill?

That youngest one kicks me and knocks the hell out of me and nobody says a thing – Some creepy kid comes up to me and asks me to stick out my paw – so I go along with the gag – the idiot gets his face in the way and gets scratched. I don’t mean to do these things. I guess I’m a clumsy ox when it comes to the social graces. You know the old saying ”you can’t make a silk purse our of a sow’s ear “.

To tell you the truth – the place is getting on my nerves. I hate to complain, but this pad hasn’t been all roses! They’re bugging me all the time – I haven’t been myself lately – you know that – I think everybody around here is flaky, but you and me. And lately I’ve been having my doubts about you.

I’ve found a place to go – It must be nice – I haven’t heard any bad reports . Everybody that I know that gets there must like it cuz they never come back. It’s called the SPCA Crematory Chapel!! (sounds fancy don’t it?) Please keep in touch with me – I know you’ll understand my point of view – Believe me – this move is for the best!

Your loyal and faithful dog


Growing up in a Catholic, Irish-American family. Attending Catholic schools,until attending college. Associating with other girls, and later boys, in this Catholic environment, fostered in her, a predisposition toward the somewhat rigid rules of Catholic religious conduct and practice.

“Offer it up” was a favorite, in a good sense, expletive she often used when she was denying something to her children. She used it often. She heard it from the Nuns, in her Catholic school experiences In one memorable incident, she was hoisted by her own petard. It follows:

Michael (our oldest child) was home sick when an over talkative neighbor called on the phone. She was very busy and didn`t want to spend time talking to her. Michael just happened to be in the kitchen getting a drink of water. She wrote on a slip of paper asking him to, in a loud voice, to say he needed her right away. Hoping the neighbor would hear his call for help, and call some other time. Michael, who had been subject to many admonitions being dismissed with a “No, offer it up” from She, wrote on her slip of paper, “No, offer it up”. The story became family legend. He, too, had a Butler streak of independence.

The Butler family were unique. For starts, her mother, Gertrude Butler, was born a Butler. A different family with the same surname. It caused her difficulties every time she entered a new grade in school. The new teacher (always a Nun) would, as a routine matter at the beginning of each year, have her fill out an information card. In so doing she had to list her mother`s maiden name. Every year the same story. The Nun would try to correct her by suggesting that her mother`s maiden name was different. She couldn`t, no matter how hard she tried, get them to understand that her mother`s maiden name was the same as her married name. People have difficulty seeing beyond their own concepts of reality (more on this later). An early lesson.

How she came to connect with me, I`ll have to wait until I see her again, because I don`t really know. What she saw was difficult for me to understand. The only clue I might even be close on, is that she might have seen me as a challenge. Women have various quirks in their nature, probably because God in his wisdom, saw that they needed some advantages to overcome the heavily weighted balance of physical strength, and know-it-all mentalities that men have. In many cases they have a better vision to see beyond what is in front of them. They, by their very nature, are obliged to consider carefully what moves to make that will affect their future. Men are easily deceived by a tendency to be blind to potential disaster. Maybe she saw in me that blindness, and made it her mission to help me regain my sight. As I detail our 65 years together (almost 62 in marriage and over 3 in courtship) you will see a pattern there that comes close to that idea.

An example of that same circumstance, on a much larger and vital scale, comes to my mind that serves as a metaphor. In late 1938, Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain, got off a plane in England with a signed agreement from Adolf Hitler, that he labeled “Peace In Our Time”. Within months, the world was involved in such a clash of civilization that had never before been so overwhelmingly close to ending it all. Chamberlain was completely duped by the evil deception of Hitler, even after witnessing a succession of his deceptions and aggressions that had taken place for years previous. Fast forward to 1982. Maggie Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain, without hesitation or delusion, sent 1800 troops to counter an Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, half a planet away. She saw what was coming, and, as hard as it was, dealt with it. It worked…

The right medicine is hard to take, but a good mother knows it’s the right thing to do. Realism triumphs over fantasy every time. My history was much like Chamberlain. I either bought into fantasy, or bit off more than I could chew. To further complicate matters, I was never curious, energetic, or inquisitive enough to seek and determine why things were not going well. My tendency was to listen to my wishful thoughts, and adopt a policy of “If I let it alone, maybe it would go away”. It never did, and I became a victim of my own lack of diligence.

By the time all of our children were born, I had reached the end of the line.

Perhaps the best metaphor to describe that connection would be to borrow from the ancient Chinese concept of Yin and Yang.

The Yin Yang theory is one of the main theories of all ancient Chinese schools of thought. According to this theory, everything in our Universe is composed of two opposing, but deeply interconnected forces – the Yin (feminine) and the Yang (masculine). The interaction of these two feng shui forces creates the essence of life around us. One cannot exist without the other, as in their seeming opposition, they deeply support and nourish each other.

The Yin Yang theory forms the foundation of feng shui. A good feng shui home or office needs a balance of Yin Yang energies as expressed in feng shui decor colors, shapes, images, etc (She was blessed with a good sense of artistry and style).

During the times of my tumult, God blessed me with enough wisdom to eventually recognize that I had someone with me who owned a good compass. When our last child had left the nest, and we were just a couple again, He Graced me with the understanding that my wife had a deep need to express herself. To be able to finally do stuff that she wanted, rather than, had to do. I had been reading a lot about how marriages go on the rocks when the last child leaves the nest and the wife grows restless. It frightened me, because I knew she had a lot of reasons to walk off and leave me behind. I desperately did not want that.

By moving to Rochester in 1973, and not having any connections, my wife, while still doing her motherly duties, found time to create her own network of rewarding activity, and it was doing rather well by the time our youngest left the nest. She had morphed over a period of about 10 years, from a stenciling artist to an Antiques dealer. She loved it. She was good. It was in the black from day one. As much as could be expected from a part-time venture.

Within a few years from the time our nest became empty; I had had another career misadventure, and had reached the practical end of that journey. A saving grace from that disaster was that I had received a significant settlement in an age discrimination settlement, and I had accumulated a fair teachers pension and was eligible to receive a significant social security benefit. Our marriage boat was, thus, now ready for a return trip to the promised land. My wife’s antique business had risen from a part-time affair to be seriously considered as a jointly operated career, with my wife in command. Her expertise and my support were now lined up and ready.
I was very careful to insist that she should be the visible identity to the business. She had really gained credibility and respect in the Jewelry trade, and in that trade, that is the critical element. My wife had complete trust and credibility, and we both knew it. So, if we were going to make it, that was a main issue.

Off we went. It worked. Our business and our marriage thrived. We were enjoying ourselves. She could go out and go crazy buying jewelry. What woman wouldn’t enjoy that? I actually was getting my kicks watching her operate. She had a flair for attracting entertaining people. Probably because she was, in her prime, an outstanding one herself.

Her laughter and sense of humor turned a dark world into one of light. It was because she became herself, finally.

The Irish have a way of expressing personal positivity. They, instead of referring to their partner by their given name they use “himself” or “herself”, as their name.
To be true to the Irish that’s in me, I will accede to that custom, and rename her: