COLM O'REGAN: Dad, Daddy, Dada: What will my baby call me?

I’VE often wondered what it would be like to have a new name.

There’s never been an option for me really. I didn’t have a nickname. Colm doesn’t lend itself too easily to nicknaming. There are Cullys out there but I was never a Cully. Cullys give it a go. Colms — okay me — take it handy a while. If I had to pick a new name, I would like a dynamic one — maybe Fox Steptoe or Lance Carruthers, something with harder consonants. Turns out I mightn’t need it. The baby has started pointing at me and saying Dad. I think. She definitely says Mam when something’s wrong and she feels she needs to speak to a manager. She might also be saying ‘That’.

I’m curious to know what she’ll settle for.

There’s Dada, which I can’t be because there was only one (or perhaps two) and the likes won’t be seen again — either my father or post-first world war avant-garde art movement. (I’d like to think my father would have been a Dadaist. He had an anarchic streak that led him to sometimes paint things with left-over whitewash on walls around the place). Beware the farmer with a bit of leftover time and painting materials.

My father would often speak of another farmer so driven mad with boredom during a wet spell, he painted the inside of his milk buckets green. (This was before co-ops brought in tests for green paint into the ‘farm to bottle’ life cycle.)

Anyway I can’t be Dada. I’m not useful enough. I couldn’t bring in 1,700 bales of straw on my own or build a hen-house. The different versions of paternal names come laden with associations from popular culture and language.

When I think about being Daddy, I picture myself wrapped around my daughter’s little finger and in “buy the pony first, ask questions later” mode. Questions such as “where will we put a pony in a former council house? This isn’t a mid-’90s Irish Movie”.

If it’s to be Dad, I think of an older version of her, sighing in exasperation after I’ve made a lame joke and holding out her hands for the car keys. I’ve already started making those jokes around the house. Coincidentally she’s started raising one eye-brow.

She won’t call me by my first name. that’s for sure. If she does, I’m legally changing my name to Daddy/Dad. Sure that’s what we thought our fathers were called anyway. I definitely didn’t call my parents by their first names. Except maybe when you had to explain to someone who you were so that your credentials could be established. This wasn’t done in the medieval film way. I didn’t say: “I am Colm, son of Patrick, of the clan O’Regan, and I will have my vengeance in this life or the next”. It was done in the usual Irish way of spending most of our lives in the conditional tense, not wanting to state anything with certainty in case it rained: “Patrick O’Regan’d be my father.”

Still my parents were and always will be Mama and Dada. In fact if I’d heard them call each other by name I’d nearly think they were getting a divorce.

There are other options such as ‘Father’ but that’s only applicable if your father owned a study. (An actual study full of his papers, not the room with the unused exercise bike in it). Of course there’s Da but I think that’s more of an urban thing. You can’t be shouting “DA!” at a man harrowing a field. He’ll think he’s lost you forever to ‘That Townie Girlfriend Of Yours’ and he won’t be cold in his grave before you’ll have the farm sold to a disliked neighbour.

Anyway for the moment it looks like I might be Dad. And I’m happy with that. (Even if ‘That’ is what she means.)


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