On a lovely June afternoon thirty-one years ago, the brief legend of McCutcheon came to an end. A robust boy-child was born to young parents in a small town hospital, and as the couple held their eldest offspring they did not, as they had led many to believe, name him after erstwhile University of Minnesota basketball star Rick McCutcheon. Instead they named him, in the face of expected family objections, Aldean, in honor of the paternal grandfather he would never meet whose sudden death more than two years earlier still hung over the clan like a dark cloud of sorrow. At no point had they seriously intended to name the child McCutcheon, but had spread the idea around to keep their true intentions private until the appropriate time.
I often wondered, in my teens, how different my life might have been as McCutcheon. My parents told me they would have called me “Mack” if they had decided to saddle me with that moniker. My most pressing thought in contemplating this theoretical life was simply: “If my name was McCutcheon, what would I tell people my name was?” For by my teens I have to believe I would have been eager to give the name the slip one way or another. But who knows: maybe I would have been fine with it. Aldean certainly took some getting used to, but I cannot imagine being named anything else. One of the first decisions I made upon reaching college was to suppress the pedestrian “Al” by which I had always been called in favor of my full given name in all its puzzling uniqueness.
So what sort of person would I be, had I grown up as Mack, or even as Ben? (Unsure how my father’s family would receive the naming, my parents carefully chose a middle name — Benjamin — they would be happy to use should the family’s objections be vociferous or sustained.) It is impossible to answer. Likely I would be very much as I am now; it seems a bit of a reach to suggest that a different naming choice would have caused a domino effect of existential ramifications all down through the three decades of my life thus far. But it could have affected my attitude, or my outlook, I suppose. Interesting to speculate upon, but not ultimately a useful exercise.
And so the name floated along in the background of my mind, an amusing tidbit from the earliest days of my life-story, the question that would always be unanswered and largely unasked. Until one day, the shine having worn off the Beaner persona I had long flourished under, the kernel of an idea began to form. The result, two years later, is a new approach to a comfortable concept: easy, familiar personal writing, a writer baring himself to his (imagined) readers with as much artifice and obfuscation as seems decent. But now we are shaving off the hyperbole and the pomposity, trying to limit the adjectives to ones that actually add meaning, not just glitter, and giving preference to real feelings and doubts over contrived self-aggrandizement. And we are doing so under a name long carried, but only now made use of.
So happy birthday McCutcheon! Happy birthday to me, the me that never was, that me that might have been, the me that might yet be. Happy birthday to the best me that I can possibly be, honestly putting forth earnest words of my own into the world, for an end unforeseen. Happy birthday, me, and enjoy this exciting, terrifying, breath-taking, hope-filled year of changes, transition, and new adventures.