That’s not his real name, of course, but it might as well be. It’s what most people who know only me know him as. What even his own family calls him when we’re sitting around a table swapping stories and shaking the house’s foundation with our laughter. If you asked our kids what Mommy calls Daddy, they’ll usually reply with, “Betty!” In our house, there’s givens. The Boy’s schedule is not a typical one, the Baby will be called the Baby even when he’s grown and gone, Mommy’s gonna end up the shortest in the house but still the one running the show, and Daddy is a giant known as Betty.
And usually, when people find out, it’s the first thing they ask. “Wait. Betty? Why Betty?”
The first time I called him that, many, many moons ago, I really didn’t expect it to stick. Not for this long. Not to the degree that it has. I kinda want to go back in time and high-five Younger Me. “Kid. You just changed the course of your guys’ history together. Sweet.”
We’d been standing in my Mama’s kitchen, a tiny, dark thing shoved into a corner of her three bedroom apartment that wasn’t nearly big enough to have three bedrooms. I’d been loading her dishwasher after dinner, she’d been really geeked back then to do things like invite us to dinner in this little space she’d carved out for herself after her divorce. It was physical proof she was moving up and moving on, that she was gonna be okay on her own, and even though we all had to sit so close at the table we bumped elbows constantly, we gathered there often, because we liked the proof of it too.
She and I’d been talking, probably a little too loud, our hands flying in wild gestures the deeper we got into our stories, and Betty had been on her couch watching a TV that was entirely too big for the room it was in.
“You’re loading that wrong,” he’d suddenly interrupted, his eyes barely leaving the screen in front of him.
“You can’t load a dishwasher wrong,” I shot over my shoulder. “It’ll clean it regardless.”
“Nope. If there’s a right and a wrong way to wash a dish by hand, there’s a right and a wrong way to load a dishwasher. And you’re loading that one wrong.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“And you can’t load a dishwasher right. Way to waste your mom’s soap. She cooks us dinner, you thank her by wasting her money.”
My sister, sitting in a chair tucked next to her bedroom door, erupted in laughter, only spurring him on. With a straight face, even after all this time, I can’t figure out how he manages to keep a perfectly straight face when he gets going, he continued.
“Face it, Kristy. You’re a horrible guest. ‘Hey, mom, I’m gonna come over, eat all your food, annoy your neighbors with my loud voice, and then load your dishwasher wrong.'”
Now even my mom was laughing. The traitor. “Bitchy Crocker has a point. I do reload it whenever you do it.”
“See!” Betty threw his arm out, as if gesturing toward his validation. “You cause her more work! God, Kristy. It’s a dishwasher. This is basic shit.”
“Fine!” It was my turn to throw my arms out, but toward said incorrectly loaded dishes. “You can quit your frazzled housewife bitching over there and load it your damn self, Betty.”
It instantly stuck.
From that day forth, whenever I got annoyed with him, and let’s be honest here, what marriage isn’t sometimes plagued by general annoyance, he was “Betty.”
“God, shut up, Betty. Your old lady griping is giving me a headache.”
“I heard you the first time, Betty.”
Soon, I was calling him Betty whenever he started bitching about anything, because he, like his father before him, is a big fan of casual bitching. Kinda like an old lady with a bad hip who just wants those loud young thundercats to stay off her lawn.
“I hear ya, Betty. Youths, amirite?”
“Bad weather coming, Betty? Hip giving you hell?”
Eventually that bled over to me just calling him Betty all the time. Some people call their spouses, “honey,” or “babe,” or “sweetheart.” I call mine Betty.
“God, Betty. That shirt looks good on you. I picked me a good trophy wife.”
“Hey, Betty? Can you grab the step stool? I wanna hang this picture in the hall.”
For his part, Betty has always been a good sport about it. Even when I got his squadron in the Air Force calling him, “Airman Betty.” He’s always laughed it off, shrugged, or rolled his eyes. “I don’t know. She calls me that online too, apparently.”
I think my favorite part though, of all of it, is the reaction other people, people who don’t know him personally, have when they see him. I think when they figure out that Betty is a guy, they picture someone entirely different. Someone with soft hands, a soft voice, and a soft disposition. And here comes my Betty. Somewhere between 6’5 and 6’6, 250 lbs, with calloused palms and a walk that hints at the time he spent in the military.
“Oh my God, doesn’t that irritate him? Isn’t he bothered by you calling him by a girl’s name?”
In his words? “Being a girl would have to be an insult for me to be insulted by it.”
That’s my Betty.