Becoming Charles

My name, Benjamin Charles Johnson, is derived from the men on both sides of my family. “Benjamin” was the name of my grandfather on my mother’s side and is a name I’ve always had an easy time connecting with. My grandpa, Ben White, died when I was only five years old, but I have a surprising amount of memories with him, sitting in his chair playing checkers, arguing over who was “Ben #1” and “Ben #2.”

Part of the reason I find great pride in sharing my name with my grandfather is how similar we seem to be. The stories my mom has told me paint Ben White as a loving, loud man who sometimes let his emotions get the best of him. He had a big heart, a quick temper, and showed a lot of love. “Ben” is just comfortable, like my favorite slippers or a cozy shirt, I have never had any problem living with it confidently.

My middle name, “Charles,” is another story. That comes from my father’s side of the family. My dad is named Charles Johnson, his father is Charles Johnson, and his father’s father was Charles Johnson. It is the Johnson family name, and it’s one that for the longest time didn’t seem to quite fit.

I think part of the reason I’ve had a hard time settling into “Charles” is because growing up I never saw myself resembling my dad. My father is a man of logic, always thinking things out, never acting on an impulse. While not quiet or unfriendly, he does not usually express himself or his feelings. He is a careful man, always cautious with every decision he makes, making sure that each step is carefully planned. Plus, Dad hates writing and loves math, so I stopped going to him for school-related advice early on in my academic career.

It’s not that I don’t love my dad or enjoy being around him, I do very much; it’s just growing up, I never saw much of him in myself, until the other day. My wife and I were getting out of the car when she said a joke. I let loose a little chuckle, and as I did I caught an image in the rear-window of the car. It was an image I’d seen many times before, that of my dad giving off a corny laugh, except it wasn’t my dad, it was me. And that’s when I realized something, I look like my dad.

Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both lacking in the luscious locks department, but over the past couple of years I can’t help noticing how much we look alike. We both have the same body type. kind of stocky and centered, and we both walk the same as well, with a kind of bounce. It didn’t always used to be this way. When I was younger, most people would tell me I looked like my mom, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve grown more and more into resembling my dad, and not just in looks.

Maybe it’s my personality following my body’s lead, but as I’ve matured to look more like my dad, I’ve seen my character traits grow to become more like his as well. The place I see it the most is finances. I may not have inherited Dad’s talent with numbers, but I’ve definitely inherited his frugal spirit. I realized this the first time I budgeted with my wife when I discovered that I like living well-within my means.

I also have somehow inherited his worrying. I used to give Dad such a hard time for worrying, until I’ve got married. In the five months I’ve been married, I think I’ve thought more concerned about my future than I have in my entire life because it’s not just me my life affects anymore. I have to think about my wife now and our future, and that’s a lot of pressure that I never realized Dad was under. I’ve found myself being more methodical in making decisions, something I used to think was tedious. My wife has even called me a “worrier” at times, something I never thought I would be but am starting to grasp now. Dad’s concern is not from a place of neurosis but from a place of love and concern and wanting the best for the people he loves the most.

My dad and I share the same humor too. Mom has been known to say that Dad thinks”dumb” things are funny, but if you ask me, I think he has a great humor. Rather it be movies like “Dumb and Dumber” or “Anchorman,” or corny jokes that are so bad they are actually genius, we both seem to laugh at the same things.

However, even more than personality, I see my dad reflected in my way of life. I don’t have any memories of Dad sitting me down and saying, “Son, this is how you should live life,” but as I’m getting older I’m learning I gleaned so much from him just by his example. Living simply, doing things without being told, working well, always offering to lend your help, always treating your wife with dignity and respect, and the importance of being present in the lives of people you care about, these are all things that Dad just does, and I see those imprints in the rhythm in which I live my life now. The reason I try to be helpful around the house, the reason I try to be attentive in my loved ones’ lives, the reason I try to be a source of stability to those around me, it’s cause that is what Dad is to me and our family.

So now, as I think about my name, “Charles” doesn’t seem like such a bad fit. As I’ve grown, the name has grown with me. It’s become less like an ill-fitted sweater and more like a fine-tailored suit; a thing that takes time and maturity to wear. There’s a saying that children are doomed to become their parents; but if that’s the case, I have to be honest, I could become a lot worse than Charles.

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One thought on “Becoming Charles

  1. Beautiful article Ben. Just an interesting FYI, daddy’s legal name was BEN FRANKLIN WHITE he was not a “Benjamin” just BEN and he was just as you described. He definitely had a temper and was very opinionated, a family trait???? LOL

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