I’ve spent the last two and a half years making a documentary film about a trip I took with my family sailing from Minnesota to Florida. What began as a fun way to document an adventure has become serious me-search. Pro-tip: if you want to save yourself thousands of dollars’ worth of therapy to learn why you do the things you do get a video camera and film your family 12 hours a day for two months straight. It’s both illuminating and terrifying. I’ve realized all that I’ve gained culturally from my parents for better or worse.
Humans acquire culture through blind copying the people around us. The first people I idolized were my parents. From my dad I downloaded many things, including a love of sailing, a commitment to volunteering, and an indifference toward fashion that has allowed me to sport crocs at the gayest West Hollywood nightclubs with no shame or sense of irony. I just want comfortable feet. Among the traits I jacked from my mom are: Swedish Jealousy, a goofy sense of humor, and very specifically the way I sign my last name.
I’m old enough to have gone to school when kids were still required to learn the archaic art of cursive. I scrawled capital “F”s built like the “Nina”, the “Pinta” and the “Santa Maria” across pages and pages of lined paper, preparing to do battle with the name Fogarty.
For awhile, I fought the good fight. But at some point in the early 90’s I did an about-face, literally. I began writing the uppercase as a backwards lowercase “f” for two reasons. First, it took about five days to construct the perfect, sea-worthy cursive “F” and no one should waste that kind of time. Second, that is exactly how my mom writes her name. I blind-copied the way she signed Fogarty. I have no idea why she writes that way. Neither of her parents had an “F”, upper or lowercase in their names. Maybe she copied it from Fender guitars. (If you knew my mom you would laugh at this joke.)
Personally, I like to think that she came up with it on the fly when she signed her new name for the first time on her wedding day in 1971. Forty-six years later I still have the last name my father gave me, signed the way my mother taught me. It is a small, but sentimental slice of the culture they’ve imparted on me, one I don’t mind keeping.
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