I love telling stories to my kids. Some they request over and over. The other day, I called my eldest son to wish him a happy birthday. We laughed and laughed about that day and vivid memories I have of his birth.
During the conversation, I was instantly transported back to August 21 20 years earlier, while we were living in a small town in the Netherlands. This is a story about AJ’s birth, how he got his name and why.
I hope my readers will not mind, but I am going to address this post to AJ as if we were sitting in the car, chatting. Please grab a seat in the back, buckle up and take a spin with AJ and me.
AJ, you were born in the small town of Leidschendam, Holland, when your mom, big sister and I lived in Voorburg, Holland. You entered this world in a small hospital on the third floor, in a room with a window overlooking a gorgeous green garden and a large Dutch canal. It was a beautiful August day.
You were slow in coming once you wanted out. You started very early, with a little rambunctious attitude of “I will do it my way.” For the record, your mother labored in great pain for several days to bring you into this world. I really don’t know how she had the strength, but she endured a lot.
Nonetheless, on Aug. 21, 1996 at about 3 PM, you were born. The Dutch nurses and doctor nicknamed you King Arthur because your name was to be Arthur. But more than that, you had a prominent red mark that circled your head due to the suction cup instrument used to pull you from your mother’s womb.
In Holland (at least with you), medical staff did not use forceps; they used a suction cup device that attached to the crown of your head. I still remember the small compressor engine extracting and pulling air when the doctor held the suction cup to your crown.
Your dad has a very weak stomach and the sight of all that down there was making me weak in the knees. So I stayed up near your mother’s head and tried to whisper encouraging words like “do not forget to breathe,” or “you got this. I think I bugged her more than anything. But once the suction cup thing was firmly in place, the doctor started to pull on it and asked your mom to push.
His grasp was strong and I remember the surgical tubing he was tugging, getting stretched and very taut. This went on for just a few minutes and I thought, “wow, is this healthy? Can this little guy withstand this powerful pulling force?” Just then, the tension snapped and the surgical suction thingy flipped back, above the doctor’s shoulders. Blood splattered all over the ceiling and the back wall. I swear — I thought he had pulled your head off. I almost fainted.
The nurse, seeing my gaping mouth, pale skin color and panicked expression, quickly reassured me all was OK. The doctor applied the suction thing again — this time, with a bit more suction — and voilà! Out you popped.
You came five-and-a-half weeks early and weighed almost seven pounds. Like most babies, you were an ugly little sucker (yes, moms, I just said that; stop rolling your eyes) and yet, like most parents, your mother and I were blind with pride and love. But make no mistake; you started this life as one unsightly creature.
The suction cup trauma had given you a serious cone head and a prominent red hicky covering your noggin, like a bright red beanie. After the doctors assured me that your deformed head and red mark would go away, I rested a bit easier.
AJ, in the Netherlands, you must go to the Gemeenta (city hall) to civically (officially) give a child a name. The day after your birth, I eagerly walked into the Gemeenta in Voorburg with the small slip of paper designated to officially name a child. I proudly slid the paper with your proposed name (Arthur Ferrell Coombs IV) under the clerk’s window.
It was at that time that a little old Dutch man with terrible English (very uncommon for the Dutch) approached the window and informed me that it was against the law to give you such a name unless I had written permission from the Dutch royal family. This initially shocked me; then, my shock turned to anger.
We had lived in Europe for almost seven years and I thought I had seen everything. I thought I understood history fairly well, yet living there brought history alive and made it real.
You see, in the Middle Ages (before America) in most places in the world, people were born into classes. Your station in life was determined by your biological lineage. If you were lucky enough to be born with royal or noble bloodlines, your future in this life was almost guaranteed. This was the way it was for hundreds and even thousands of years. There were many laws and rules that were imposed on the masses to ensure those with wealth and power stayed wealthy and powerful.
Common people could not own weapons. Common people could not speak openly if they disagreed with government or ruling powers. Common people could not worship how they wanted. Common people could not own land. There were many things that were practiced that today, to us in the U.S., would seem absurdly silly, unreasonable and just a violation to human dignity.
One of those unreasonable laws was the law that would not allow anyone to have a roman numeral in their name unless born into a royal family or given direct permission from a royal family.
Now, AJ, you were born in 1996 and to my knowledge, this law is still enforced in Holland. Amazing. Anyway, I tried to name you Arthur Ferrell Coombs IV, but the Dutch government denied my request. My reasoning and even pleading with the local Dutch officials fell on deaf ears.
After some frustrated sarcasm only your father can muster, I told the Dutch authorities that my son may have been born in the Netherlands but that he was an American and not having the freedom of a name related to the very reasons most Europeans left to come to America. It is why we Americans hold so sacred our rights as individuals. As I was leaving, I told them that I would not rest until I visited the American Consulate in Amsterdam to have your name officially registered as Arthur Ferrell Coombs IV, son of Arthur Ferrell Coombs III, son of the great Arthur Ferrell Coombs, Jr., son of the Noble Arthur Ferrell Coombs Sr., of Garland, Utah.
The authorities were aghast that someone other than “royal” family would take such action. They looked down on me with disgust and irritation. They were merely workers doing their duty. Yet, I felt for the first time the prejudices that millions and millions of people must have felt before the USA became the USA.
Anyway, back to your name. AJ, you were named Arthur Ferrell Coombs IV, not because that was my name, but because it was the name of your grandfather and great-grandfather. These men are and were honorable men. They were honest, hardworking men that tried to do their best in this life. I can assure you that your grandfather and great-grandfather made mistakes, just as I have.
Yet, without fail, they collected their thoughts and recommitted to doing the right thing. Because they lived, you are. Your grandfather and great-grandfather exist in your DNA; you are a culmination of what they were. The way you talk, the way you walk, the way you think, etc. is influenced by what you inherited from these great men. It is true that you are more than what you inherited. What you do and how you act is also influenced by your environment.
Nevertheless, your grandfather and great-grandfather are a part of you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Many of your mannerisms and features were theirs. I see pieces of them in you and what you do.
To my knowledge, the Coombs family line does not come from earthly royal linage. Your great-grandfather was a hard-working businessman (a dry cleaner by trade) and your grandfather was a teacher and entrepreneur. They both worked long, hard hours to provide for their loved ones. They both gave willingly to those in need.
I knew when you were born that your name would be the single most frequently heard word in your life. I hope today, as you go through life and hear your name, you will think of grandpa and great-grandpa and learn from their wisdom, their mistakes and their successes.
As your father, I hope that you learn by studying what they did and how they responded to challenges. This knowledge will help you understand and handle your own.
A side note: Kelly (your older sister) came up with the nickname AJ. She said you were kind of an Art Jr. and she liked the sound of AJ. So did your mom and I. I was Art, Arthur seemed a bit heavy, and Ferrell… well, that was your great-grandpa.
So, AJ stuck.
Aug. 21, 1996 was one of the best days of my life. Thanks for being my son and allowing me to be your father. I love you more than you know, at least until you have a son.
Then you’ll know.Tags: AJ, AJ Coombs, Art Coombs, birth, Don't Just Manage -- LEAD!, family, freedoms, grandfather, grandpa, great-grandfather, great-grandpa, heritage, Holland, individual freedoms, leadership, lineage, Netherlands, personal DNA, royal family, royalty
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This post was written by Art