I was born with a famous name. It wasn’t famous when I was born, but, oh, did it become famous. It wasn’t associated with a famous athlete or a musician. I would have even settled for a scientist, but alas that was not my destiny. My name…is…Richard Simmons. Yup. Richard Simmons. Just like that guy you used to see on TV. Can you imagine? We are total opposites. He’s short, I’m tall. He’s white, I’m black. He wears really short shorts, I wear clothes like a normal person. What’s worse? I’m a junior. You know what’s even worse than that? My dad was a physical education instructor. Try getting around those jokes.
I’ve visited my dad when he was teaching and he was not a gym teacher. He taught kids how to take care of their bodies through physical activity. It was easy for him, he was a jock. Two time hall of fame inductee. Inducted into Manhattan College’s Jasper Hall of Fame for running track and for coaching at the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame on Long Island for having nineteen championships with the Brentwood Indians. Nineteen! (He told me unofficially it’s twenty-five because he coached other places too) Our basement was full of his medals, trophies, and awards. He’d been a star since high school, excelled in college, and even ran for the U.S. Army, which got him out of a lot of normal Army duties.
Everyone knew my dad. I couldn’t go anywhere with him without running into a former student, athlete, or coach. He’s helped so many people get into college through scholarships, they threw him a party every year to thank him. Every year; for decades. It’s difficult growing up under a legend, but what caused my consternation is this. He grew up in a time where everyone called him “Dick.” Well, mainly white people, but that’s mostly who he was around. There weren’t many black teachers, even less in coaching. So, Dick Simmons, that’s who he was.
The problem was that everyone referred to me as “Little Dick.” All my friends called me Rich. My family called me Richie, which I didn’t like, but they thought it was cute. I made them stop when I was thirteen. I purposefully introduce myself as Richard. It sets a more professional tone when you use your whole name.
But, Little Dick?! Ugh, I wanted to die. My dad didn’t care or even bother to notice because when we were together he was always “Big Dick.” It didn’t matter that I was a child. Being called Little Dick was demeaning.
Walking down the hall, you’d hear, “Hey, Big Dick!” My father would get a little swagger in his step. Then they’d see me. “Hey, it’s Little Dick! How you doing Little Dick?” More times than not, they’d rub my head and make mushy type sounds.
I was disgusted.
But what could I do? This abuse went on for years. Even in college, I caught some flack for my name. There was only one thing I could do. When I have a kid, name him Richard.
Then I’ll be Big Dick.
So, I got my wife pregnant and prayed really, really, hard for a boy. Please God, give me a boy! And He did. Yaaasssss!! Hallelujah! I did have to make one concession on his name. We named him after his grandfathers, so he’s Richard Abraham Simmons. I was cool with that, because I’m still Big Dick. Little did I know things would swing wildly away from my favor.
My parents came to visit while Little Dick, Jr. was still in the hospital. My parents picked me up from my house and I hopped in the backseat, exhausted from traveling back and forth to the hospital, which was about fifteen miles away, on the bus, because I didn’t have a car back then. So on our way, my father asks, “So tell me the baby’s name again,” and I told him. So he repeats it. “Richard Abraham Simmons. Richard Abraham Simmons. R…A…S. Richard A. Simmons. R…A…S.” Then a lightbulb went off in his head. “Let’s call him Ras.” (Say Razz). I felt like I got kicked in the gut. “Excuse me?” “Ras. It’s a cool name. I like it,” my father said. Then my mother chimed in, “I like it too.” It was a cool nickname, but if it stuck, I’ll never be Big Dick. So I tried to play it down. “It’s….okay.” I said. “I can’t wait to see little Ras,” said my mother. I only had one recourse. The wife had to be against it. I had to make sure that happened. So we get to the hospital and my wife is laying in bed when we arrive and immediately my father tells her the nickname. In my mind, I’m like, “Don’t fail me babe. C’mon baby.” And….she loved it. What the…, ah c’mon man! What could I do? While my parents went to see the baby on display with all the other babies and everyone is cooing through the glass pane, I took the time to plead to my wife. “Babe. He has to be Little Dick.” Yes, I emphasized the capital L. She asked. “Why?” “Because I’m Big Dick now.” “Say what?” “Because I’m Big Dick and he’s Little Dick.” “That’s stupid.” “No, it’s not. I’ve been waiting all my life for this. It’s my time.” “What are you talking about?” “It’s my turn to be Big Dick. I wanna be Big Dick.” “Are you crazy?” I raised my voice. “I want to be Big Dick!” “Stop it.” “No. It’s my turn.” I was really getting agitated. “But Ras is a cute nickname.” I wiped my palms in the air. “I know, it’s cute. Blah, blah, blah. So what? I’m Big Dick now.” She chortled. I was offended and showed it. “I’m serious.” I was getting loud. Maybe a little obnoxious too. “C’mon babe. Seriously.” Then I just went on a tirade like a lunatic until my wife ended it all with a quip. “Rich.” I’m exasperated at this point. “What?” “Stop being a little dick.”