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Naming your kid after a Bears legend

Yesterday, I wrote this article which was more or less an amusing account on the difficulties of raising a child to love the Chicago sports teams that have been so heart-breaking to me in the past.

The general consensus was that I should remain loyal to my teams and take my new son on this journey, regardless of my primal nature to protect him from anything which may cause him pain.  I suppose the lesson learned is that although I may want him to bask in the glory of celebrating Yankees championships year after year, I really don’t want him to be a Yankees fan — or a Cardinals fan, or Packers fan.

The most surprising responses to my article were those debating my family’s decision to name my son after Bears great Walter Payton.  Even more interesting was the almost-harassing nature of some of the comments regarding our decision to bestow the surname of “Sweetness” into our son’s full-name.

We were labeled “clueless”, by one particular reader, for naming him “after a star”.

It was insinuated by another reader that we were quite possibly “shallow, needy people who assumed a group identity to validate [our] otherwise colorless lives.”

And finally, there was the most intellectual response of all: “Next kid I have I’m naming ‘Seven'”, by a Mr. G. Costanza.

Ok, so I thought I’d throw some humor in there.  It was an actual response, just not from someone named “G. Costanza”.

Anyway, being that there was such debate sparked from my son’s name, I figured I’d give everyone a little bit of insight as to why my son was given the name he has.  Though most people have taken his name as simply being a tribute to Walter Payton, the name is actually quite a bit deeper — after all, he does have a mother, and mothers require a bit of convincing when naming after a sports celebrity.

In case you missed it, my son’s name is “George Payton Darkow”.  George, like me.  Payton, like Walter.  Darkow, like many of his ancestors.   Like myself, my son is named after my grandfather (his great-grandfather).  Our decision to give our son the first name of “George” was just as much of a tribute — if not more so — than our decision to give him the middle name of “Payton”.

My grandfather was the most influential person in my life.  He was a immigrant who saw his home destroyed in the midst of World War II.  He was a military man who survived a seemingly unsurvivable situation.  He was a man who built everything he had out of his own hard work and his determination to provide for his family.  He was a man who, financially, always gave more than he could, and a man who, supportively, gave more than anyone could.

I met my wife in the spring of 2008, nearly 700 miles from Chicago.  Practically from the moment I met her, I knew I wanted to marry her.  Our first conversation was centered around the commonality we had in being from the Chicago area.  Among many other things, we established that we both hated each other’s favorite baseball team and that we both had a love for the same NFL football team — the Chicago Bears.   We initially debated the upcoming (2008) NFL season, and the chances the Bears possessed of being contenders.  I was cynical of the Bears’ offensive line and receiving corps, and was a supporter of Rex Grossman — my wife hated Rex Grossman.  Nevertheless, from the early beginnings of our relationship, we enjoyed discussing the Bears and berating each other for our baseball loyalties.

Around the summer of 2008, my mother and grandfather visited me for an afternoon lunch.  It was then that I first mentioned to them the relationship I’d formed with my soon-to-be wife.  My grandfather was excited about the news that I’d found someone I was so “in to” and asked if he could meet her.   My wife — ever the prepared one — had also felt that day would be the day she’d meet my family for the first time.  In an effort to impress my mother and grandfather, my wife wore to work a navy Chicago Bears jersey. Unfortunately, that day my grandfather and mother were not able to meet the woman who would one day be my wife.

Less than two weeks later, my grandfather passed away.  It truly was a shame my wife never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather, as he was an exceptional person.  He was always someone who put the needs of his family far above his own.  He was a man who was never above putting in long days of hard, manual labor.  And he was a man who was never anything short of reliable — regardless of the situation.

For these reasons, among numerous others, our son takes “George” as his first name.

Our decision to use “Payton” as a middle name is very similar.  As I stated before, my wife and I have a common interest in Chicago sports — mainly the Bears.  Since the beginning of our relationship, we’ve spent numerous Sundays and Monday nights cheering for – and cursing – our beloved Chicago Bears.   Sure, we could’ve gone with “George Refrigerator”, “George Ditka”, “George Butkus”, or any other storied legend in Bears history, but we ultimately chose “George Payton” for the similarities Walter had with my grandfather, and the nobility which both men portrayed.

George "Punky"? Not so much...

Coincidentally, my grandfather and I were very much into sports.  We spent countless days throughout my childhood watching, studying, analyzing, and discussing sports — mainly of the Chicago variety.   My grandfather wasn’t as easily wowed by inflated statistics as much as I was.  My grandfather went deeper.  He believed that professional athletes were very fortunate to have the lifestyles their profession granted them, and believed they should conduct themselves in a grateful, humble, and respectful manner. Although he may have respected the accomplishments of guys like Pete Rose, Sammy Sosa, Lawrence Taylor, and Isiah Thomas, he was always very quick to give proper credit to the “sports humanitarian”.   We would often debate who “great” athletes were — and by “great” I mean in terms of ability AND character.  Michael Jordan was always near the top, as were Ryne Sandberg,MarkGrace, and Andre Dawson.  Ernie Banks was considered “great” by my grandfather’s standards — especially after a spontaneous meeting in a Houston hotel parking lot.  Ron Santo was highly regarded as well. Nearly each and every time, however, the debates of my grandfather and myself ended with a single word:  “Payton”.

Walter Payton was the most highly-regarded athlete of all-time in the eyes of my grandfather. Payton was never involved in any sort of controversy, was a devoted family man, perfect teammate, and had a work ethic nearly impossible to duplicate.  He was one of the most charismatic personalities ever to be involved in professional sports, and he never took any of his talent for granted.   He was, for the sake of our debate, flawless.

Now, many years after the daily sports discussions I had with my grandfather, I look back at those times and those discussions as some of the best times of my life.  The foundation of the times my grandfather and I shared may not have been based on Biblical figures or political greats, but great athletes — and one particularly great human being who happened to be a great athlete.

In naming my son “George Payton Darkow”, I’m honoring the greatest man I will ever know, and one of the greatest athletes who brought us together time and time again.  I can only hope to be as good a role model to my son as either of these men.  My wife and I ultimately agreed, in the end, that “George Payton” was a much better way to go than “George Konerko”.

My response:  “Sweetness!”

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