Becoming my father 2014.10.22


Looking through a book of quotes, I came across a Mark Twain classic: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." 

The quote stuck out to me because my eighth grade English teacher had written it on a chalkboard about a decade ago. I remember thinking, "Mark Twain has definitely never met my father." I have spent most of the decade since then trying to rebel and become everything my father is not. My old man is a very meticulous, orderly person. I still wake up every morning and struggle to find matching socks on the way out the door. 

I rebelled in every way a kid (and young adult) could rebel. I got expelled from high school. I ended up getting back in and graduating. Then my parents wanted me to go to college, so I did, and then I dropped out a year later. My dad suggested that I wait to have kids, but then I had my first at 19, another at 22. I look back now and wonder what I was rebelling against. 

My dad can definitely be a quick-tempered, stubborn man. He always expected my best. When I didn't do my best, I would be appropriately disciplined. I thought I had gotten dealt a crummy hand when it comes to fathers.

He worked long hours in a factory to put food on the table. Coming home each night with sore legs and a sore back, he wouldn't always have the time or energy to toss a ball in the back yard every time I would have liked. But, if I brought home a "B" or (God forbid) a "C" grade he would always make time to find out what happened and why.

I have since come to realize that those questions weren't intentionally malevolent, instead, he just didn't want me to have to work as hard as he did. Because of my rebellious ways, however, I have spent 60 hours a week for the last three years doing factory work very similar to what my father did.

My sister recently turned 12, and is just now entering the rebellious phase. According to her, she has the most strict parents in the world. Life's not fair for her, no one understands her. I hear myself in her pre-teen angst. I want to shake her and tell her that at such a young age and with such a limited perspective on life, she has no idea how good she really has it. 

Every day I catch myself sounding more and more like the old man in both my talks with my sister and in my own parenting. I think of how selfishly I thought and behaved, and I wonder if it was a personal issue or a generational issue. Perhaps I'm getting old-minded myself, but it seems as if my generation and beyond expects things to be handed to them. When things aren't handed to us, we get angry, and when we get angry we rebel. 

I remember my dad lecturing me when I would put 10 times more food on a plate than I could eat, and then throw most of it in the trash. Now I realize first-hand the work hours on sore feet that bought that food. I watch my sister do the same thing, and get the same lecture I got. She then does the eye roll and head shake that I thought was my own invention.

As an adult, I realize that 16 million children in the United States live below the poverty line. For two adults with a child, that line is $17,552 a year in combined family income. Twenty-two percent of all children in the United States live below that line, and I had the nerve to roll my eyes when I got lectured for throwing away food. 

My father and I may never see eye to eye on every issue. I still don't care whether my shoes are arranged neatly in the mud room, and I don't think I ever will. I also never thought I'd spend frustrating hours telling my own kids to put away their toys, and to finish their food, but I do. I want my kids to work hard at school, to appreciate the things they have, and to go to college so that they won't have to work as hard as I do. I guess I am turning out to be a lot like my father, and I don't think that's such a bad thing after all. 

At 25, I can finally appreciate the sacrifices my father made to make sure I had everything I needed. For a long time, if anyone had told me that I was like my dad, it would have been taken as an insult. Now, it would be a compliment. Mark Twain may not have met my father, but I am beginning to realize that his observation was timeless.

• Danny Kalis, a fairly new Morenci resident who enjoys writing, has offered to write an occasional column in this space.