My father stood in the hospital room, with a first born son in his hands. Now was the moment he waited for his entire life. The opportunity to name his child. My mother and father had agreed that he could name the first born as long as she could name any other children they had together, to which my father obliged and agreed. So he only had one chance, one opportunity to name his son, and he knew he had to make it count. He had been thinking about this for awhile now. And with great excitement he named this child – “Vladimir”. Now I’m sure that my dad had great intentions when naming me Vladimir, but I don’t think he foresaw the effect this name would have on my life.
For as long as I can remember my name has been a topic of discussion. Whenever I would introduce myself there would be inevitable questions such as…
“Are you from Russia?”
“Vladimir? I’ve never met a black person named Vladimir before!”
I remember being asked by a substitute teacher if I was an “undercover spy from Russia”.
Throw in the dreaded Vladimir Putin jokes…
…and you have the story of my life. These are just a few of the questions and comments that I receive when telling someone that my name is Vladimir.
I did not need to learn how to start up conversation, my name in itself was a conversation starter.
I remember asking my dad one day why he decided to name me “Vladimir”.
Without even thinking, with a proud smirk on his face he responded “It was different, and I wanted you to be different too”.
Lately, I have been on a personal journey of discovering and defining for myself who “Vladimir” is. If it was my dad’s desire for me to be different many of the lessons I learned in my childhood taught me how to conform.
Growing up in a Haitian home I enjoyed a rather pleasant childhood. I can honestly say that my parents loved me with all their hearts. They set a good example for me and my sister on what it meant to work hard. But if there was one thing I inadvertently learned growing up it was that my acceptance would always be based on my behavior.
You see, growing up in Haitian culture, I was taught behavior. I was taught that if I obeyed all the rules and regulations then I would then be accepted. For me there was no other place I learned this lesson than at church. Church for me, as a child growing up, was more than just a weekly ritual we practiced every weekend. For my family and I church, and our faith, was a way of life. The church I went to was a close knit family. Everybody knew everybody. All of my childhood friends were at this church. I couldn’t tell you about myself without someone talking about church. This was family.
But as some of you may know family can sure be nosy. This church family wasn’t any different. If any of the older members caught you doing something you were not supposed to be doing you were swiftly punished and shamed in public. For me, the fear of being punished was the lesson. What scared me the most was being shamed or embarrassed in public. I had seen children punished, embarrassed and even spanked in public. I had a friend who acted out one day and in front of the entire 300 person church he was spanked by his dad.
Now for some people, Haitians especially, that’s normal. But that moment has always been engrained in my memory because I never wanted to have something like that happen to me. Because what came with public punishment was a reputation. You were known as the good kid or the bad kid by how you behaved. So what was my response to this internal lie that I would only be accepted if I behaved?
I behaved! I made sure that I was the best behaved boy at the church. In the Haitian church it’s considered disrespectful if you don’t kiss all the church mothers on the cheek. So what did I do? I kissed all the church mothers on the cheek. When I was in the room there was no cheek left un-kissed. And you know what they would say to my mom? “Your son is such a good boy”. They did not know me but because I behaved correctly they accepted me.
This false belief then became challenged when at the age of 8, I stumbled on pornography. That’s a different story for a another day, but for me this was not a behavior that I could tell others about and feel accepted. So I struggled for years in silence. In response to this false belief, I began to live with a mask, covering who I really was, what I was really struggling with all because I was worried what other people would think of me.
Going into high school and later into college I then began to believe that my acceptance would be based not simply on my behavior, but also by my accomplishments.
So I accomplished much and I excelled. I had a high GPA, I was Senior Class President, and I gave the graduation speech at my school. I was later accepted into the University of Central Florida where I graduated with a degree in civil engineering. I was being invited to preach at churches all over the city of Orlando. I was by anyone’s standards, successful. The problem was, I not only began to base my identity on my behavior, but I then began to base my identity on my accomplishments. And the danger with basing your identity on your accomplishments is that you can find yourself crippled by comparison. And that’s what happened to me. I began to compare my success, my accomplishments to that of others. But I learned through experience that if I compared myself to others in order to validate my own worth, then I would always be losing.
It was my dad’s goal that by naming me Vladimir I would be different. 2017 has been the year of discovering what makes Vladimir different, embracing those differences, and chasing after my purpose. No longer will I base my worth on the opinions of others around me. No longer will I live under the crippling power of comparison. It’s my goal to discover the person that God created me to be.
My name is Vladimir, it’s nice to meet you.
I desire to share my journey to discovering God and myself with you hoping that something in my story might help you. So stay tuned! This is Vladvice.