We Gave My Son a Traditional Name From My Culture. My Husband Won’t Use it.

We Gave My Son a Traditional Name From My Culture. My Husband Won’t Use it.

Care and Feeding

What’s the hang-up here?

A couple fights.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m an immigrant to America. I came over when I was 18 to study and wound settling here permanently. I married a local man, and we have a son who is just entering first grade. My husband and I had some disagreement over naming our boy, but we ultimately decided on “Dende,” a traditional name from my culture. My husband rarely refers to Dende by name, often calling him “Little Green,” as the lad very much likes to wear that color. Dende likes his nickname, so I figured it wasn’t much of a problem. However, we were recently filling out some paperwork for Dende’s schooling, and I could clearly see my husband struggling with what to write in for his name. I realize it’s not a traditional American boy’s name, but I feel hurt personally and worried about our son if his father is rejecting his name like this. I don’t know what to do, and all of my relatives who really understand my cultural perspective live half a world away.

—Still an Outsider

Dear Still an Outsider,

I can imagine that your husband’s hesitancy to accept your son’s name can make you feel as though your culture, and you, by extension, are being rejected. I’d urge you to also consider that your husband agreed to the name in the first place, which is a great showing of acceptance (or, at the very least, him acknowledging how much it meant for you to give your son a name from your heritage). Ask your husband to try and use your son’s given name more frequently; explain that you want your son to embrace his name fully and that you are concerned that he may take his father’s seeming aversion to the name personally, or to mean that there is something wrong with it. Talk openly about the isolation you feel as the only person around from your culture, and what it means to you to instill pride for your culture within your son, who should be sharing in it as well. Remind your husband that you both agreed upon this name and that you want your son to feel confident about it. If there are other ways in which you feel like your background has been disregarded in the marriage, be honest about those feelings and let your husband know just how important it is for you to feel that both you and your culture are being treated with respect.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My younger sister and I are Chinese, white, Japanese, and Korean—but barely the latter two. People often assume we are Chinese and white, and we don’t correct them because it’s not a big deal.

Recently, a mutual friend found out otherwise. She and my sister are both big fans of Japanese media (anime, manga, J-pop, rhythm games, you name it). She’s been harassing my sister, saying that she’s a “fake otaku” and that she “doesn’t deserve” to be Japanese because she doesn’t flout it enough, or something. That’s funny and incredibly wrong! “Otaku” are simply just fans with no regard to your ethnicity, and you don’t need to go around touting your culture to be a part of it. (We told her exactly that and got frustrated yelling in response.) My sister learned Japanese with things like games and songs in mind, not her grandfather. Likewise, this friend has been going after me, too, for “not watching K-dramas/not listening to K-pop enough.” I learned Korean with the same logic as my sister, and I don’t know what qualifies as “enough” for this friend, because it’s perfectly fine for me and shouldn’t be dependent on where I’m from.

We’ve told her to stop because it’s weird and invasive, but she simply isn’t stopping. She’s a great friend otherwise and we’re close because of these similar interests; do we have to cut ties because of this?

—Not Asian Enough or Too Asian?

Dear Not Enough,

You can, and should, give this friend an ultimatum: Tell her that you’ve heard enough of her takes on your relationship to your heritage and that if she wants to continue to be friends with you two, she’ll stop sharing them. It’s great to be passionate about your culture, but you can’t berate people into having the same experience as you. Her words are hurtful and insulting; she’s made herself some sort of gatekeeper over Asian identity. If she isn’t willing to cease this line of commentary, then you and your sister have to decide if it’s worth enduring to continue the friendship. Hopefully, she will come to realize just how much her words have hurt you, and she’ll come to her senses.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

· If you missed Thursday’s column, read it here.
· Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

My best friend was a single mom to a lovely little boy “David.” She got pregnant unexpectedly with a man she didn’t really know, and David is now 5 years old. I was there the day he was born, and I let my friend move in with me and my husband for support. Her family has been completely uninvolved (her parents haven’t even met David). The three of us have basically raised David together. I was there for the late-night feedings, toddler tantrums, sports. I picked him up from daycare, help watch him when he’s sick, everything.

Tragically, my best friend recently passed away in a car accident and left no will. David’s father, who lives across the country, now wants custody of him. His father doesn’t even know David; he questioned the paternity the entire pregnancy without reason, refused to acknowledge David, and my friend didn’t even list him on the birth certificate. This man has never met his son. My husband and I are absolutely devastated; David has been a part of our life since the day he was born, and my husband and I have been there for every birthday, every sniffle, every T-ball game. But there’s really nothing on paper. Do we have legal recourse? Is it better for him to go be with his dad? And if we lose him, how do we deal with the loss?

—Basically a Co-Parent

Dear Basically,

Laws regarding parental rights vary from state to state, but generally tend to favor placing children with one of their parents over someone who isn’t a relative. However, you should still get a lawyer and find out if you have a case for custody of David and if the local laws allow you to do so, you should fight as hard as you can to keep this boy. As you say, you and your husband have been his family since day one, and his father has done nothing until this point to be part of his life. Still, you must prepare yourself for the possibility that David will be placed with his dad. It may be the case that he gets custody automatically; no matter how good your argument for your care may be, some laws just default to the biological parent. I would strongly urge you and your husband to start speaking to a therapist or counselor about this before a decision has been made, someone who can help you two come to terms with what the future may hold. It would be a devastating loss and the two of you will need some time to recover. If David is to end up living with his father, you can ask him if you all can maintain a relationship with him via regular phone calls, FaceTimes and visits; hopefully, he will value the work you put in to raise him thus far and will respect it enough to keep you all connected.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My brother has been struggling to get his life back together after he got addicted to prescription drugs after a back surgery. He loves his 5-year-old daughter “Vee” with all his heart but is not in a place to be there for her. So Vee comes over to my house to play with her cousins when it is my brother’s turn for custody more often than not. Vee’s mom had another baby recently and the father isn’t in sight. She has the nasty habit of having to “work” during Vee’s weekends with us and leaving the baby with us. Stupidly, I took her at her word and was eager to build a rapport for Vee’s sake. I have three children of my own, including a toddler. I thought I was doing a struggling single mom a solid.

Well, the truth is, the woman is going out to party, get drunk, and gamble. It is all there in her social media. The first time I texted her about this, she claimed it was a work event and then made her social media private and blocked me. She still expects to leave her baby with me when Vee comes over and has threatened to keep Vee away if she doesn’t get her way. My brother is stressed out and pleads with me not to rock the boat. I can’t deal with this. Help!

—Too Much

Dear Too Much,

There is a chance that if you refuse to care for the baby, this woman will keep Vee away as well. You have to decide if you want to continue to accommodate her, despite how challenging it must be to care for five children at once, or if you want to put your foot down. If you do the latter, it may be a case of your brother having to return to court to complain that he is being kept away from his daughter. I think the two of you would be well within your rights to choose this option; it isn’t fair for this woman to force an unrelated infant on you for weekends at a time as a condition of being able to see Vee. Perhaps things would be different if she was truly busy working, but she’s out having a good time while you tend to her responsibilities. I urge you to tell her you will no longer be able to keep her youngest child and that you don’t want that to get in the way of your family’s time with Vee. It may lead to a bit of a battle, but it’s only fair. Vee deserves time with her family and you, already doing the work of standing in the gap for your brother, should not have to care for a bonus baby in order to make that happen.


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