Saturday, December 31, 2011

Frat Life 101: How To Earn A Pledge Nickname

One of the traditions of Sig Tau was that a member was assigned for every pledge to be their big brother. Ostensibly the role of the big brother was one of mentorship, to help guide the pledge through their journey and to assist them when they needed it. That was the theory at least. Put into practice the results would always vary depending upon who the big and little brothers were. The pledge was required to learn about their big brother (as well as their fellow pledges). His hometown, how many brothers or sisters he had, his major and so forth. I believe the idea was it would build more brotherhood and strengthen the fraternity as a whole.

The big brother was also responsible for another long standing tradition, the pledge nickname. Now don't go flashing back to Animal House and how they did it. With us it wasn't a ceremony attended by all, instead at a certain point early in pledgeship (hopefully after observing the pledge a bit) the big brother would bestow one on you and that was it. You were christened with it wherever you happened to be at the time. I don't even remember when or where I received mine to be honest. You could be given more nicknames in the future but the one given in pledgeship was considered the "official" one.

In my case my big brother was Buzz, aka The Captain. Buzz didn't go out of his way to mentor me a great deal. As I recall he was soon to leave NSU and move onto adult life. In his infinite wisdom he gifted me with the nickname of Captain Dangerous. Well, there is more to it than that but I don't want to repeat it here. By giving me this nickname he managed to keep the captain theme going as well as name me something that was completely against my nature and didn't fit me at all. I mean, here I was, 6' 1" and 130 pounds of a nerdish stick of a lad that had an extremely poor self image as well as absolutely no belief in myself socially or otherwise. At first I found it to be embarrassing since it was such an ill fitting nickname but eventually I warmed to the idea and embraced it.

After all, college was the place I could learn and grow and start changing into the person I was to become right? Yeah, right. After my pledging was over and I became a member the very next semester I was immediately given the honor of having a little brother. His name was Randy and he had pledged another frat which was known for being preppies, something Randy couldn't approximate with the help of a Hollywood special effects team. It just wasn't who he was. They ended up blackballing him which is the nice way of saying that they used him as a number, took his money for pledging and then got rid of him because they never intended to let him in.

Somehow Randy found his way to Sig Tau where he found that he fit in with the rest of us dirtbags. We didn't care about money, clothes, etc. All we cared about was brotherhood. The one thing I still recall about Randy after all these years was how much of a klutz he was. So it was incredibly appropriate when I continued the captain legacy and named him Captain Klutz. He was a good guy that just needed people to look past superficial things and get to know him. I tried my best to help him as I couldn't help but see a little of me in him. After that semester I left for the summer and then sat out the Fall 1984 semester and when I came back to school Randy was gone, I believe he transferred to another school but I can't say for sure.

In the Spring semester of 1985 I had returned to school and my brother from other parents Tommy started there as well. He had graduated from high school a semester early and was now interested in pledging Sig Tau. I tried to tell him that he needed to look at other fraternities to make sure he got the right fit but he wouldn't hear of it. He simply told me that if Sig Tau was good enough for me, it was good enough for him. I then tried to tell the other members that they shouldn't make him my little brother because we already knew each other and the idea was to make the pledge learn about their big brother. Of course they immediately assigned him to be my little brother.

Tommy was a good guy (still is too) and approached pledging with the right frame of mind. One day I observed him walking quickly with a purpose and it reminded me of how Groucho Marx walked in his movies. Captain Groucho was born that day, although I'm not sure if he appreciated the name. Tommy stayed in and was one of the core guys until after he graduated. Not long after he and several others left, the chapter died off, never to return. There were a lot of contributing factors that added together spelled the demise of Zeta Chapter. Some things aren't meant to last forever, they run their course and disappear. But while it was there Sig Tau had a major impact in a lot of lives, the least of which was mine and a lot of people still remember me as Captain Dangerous.

Written and Published by Don Leach. May not be used without permission from the author.


Samantha Bangayan said...

This was a captivating read, Don! =) I love that idea of symbolically passing on a name just as we pass on our last names. And I like how you ended up embracing Captain Dangerous. Sometimes, we just need a new label like that to bring out the other side of us. And we could all learn from bringing new balance into our lives. =)

Don said...

That was the first time in my life that I made an attempt to break free from the routine and become the person who I wanted to be. All these years later I'm still trying to get there. Thanks for reading and commenting Sam, it's nice to know someone appreciates it. Don