Writing about My Father Makes Me Realize I’m Being a Jackass and I Need to Chill Out

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Part One – The Time Slightly Before Becoming a Jackass

“Do you have an English name,” I asked the new student.  He was a cute little dude, maybe seven years old.  I hoped he already had an English name, because I suck at naming the new kids.  Luckily, he did.

“My name is Cooper,” he said.  He seemed excited to meet me.

“Cooper,” I repeated.  “Excellent.  I like that name a lot.”

Part Two – I, Jackass

Two days later, Cooper came up to me before class.  He was concerned about something I had written on the board.  During out English game in class, I wrote all the students’ names on the board and kept score.  Although he didn’t say anything at the time, Cooper was sad.

“Teacher,” he said, “my name is with K.”

“Huh?”

“You wrote wrong on board.”

“What do you mean?  That’s how you spell it.  C-o-o-p-e-r.  Cooper.”

He said that was wrong.  He took a marker and wrote the correct version on the board.

Kuper.

“Um, no buddy,” I said, firmly.  “I’ve never seen it spelled like that.  I think maybe your teacher made a mistake.  We’re gonna spell it with a C and two O’s from now on.”

“No teacher!” he said, panicked.  “It is with K!  K-u-p-e-r!”

In my head, I wondered who taught him that.  It was likely a Korean English teacher who couldn’t really speak English.  Who else would spell Cooper that way?  Kuper?  Like Super.  For the next week or so, this turned into a major bone of contention.  I wanted him to spell the name properly, and he, with every ounce of his tiny body, was dead set on spelling it his way.

“No!” he’d shout when I wrote Cooper on the board.  “K!  K!  K!”

“Listen,” I said, “that’s a racist organization and you shouldn’t support them.  Now look, this is the right way to spell it, Cooper.  I like your name…I just think you should spell it right.”

He covered his face with his hands, devastated.  It was like his entire world had gone up in smoke.  Like the moment you realize there is no Santa Claus, or that the Tooth Fairy is your father, or that Milli Vanilli lip sank “Blame it on the Rain.”  It was one of those moments.  Disillusionment.

It wasn’t brought on by the new spelling of his name, though, but instead by the realization that this teacher was not, under any circumstances, going to change it back.

Part Three – Jackass Epiphany

The day before Thanksgiving, I wrote a silly blog post about my family.  In it, there was an innocuous line of dialogue where my father calls me “Billy.”  My father always called me Billy.  The strange tension with Cooper made me reflect on that a bit, and I thought back.

When I was a little kid – Cooper’s age – I liked being called Billy.  It was a fun name, I thought.  Then something happened.  Around middle school time, suddenly the kids at school began teasing me over it.  It started with Larry Miller.  My mother didn’t like Larry because she said he had a dirty neck (good reason not to like someone, really).  I thought Larry was a cool person, and I considered him my friend.  That’s why I was surprised when Larry started doing a mean impersonation of me for the class.

“Hi!” he said in kind of a weird, lispy voice.  “I’m Billy Panara!”

I wondered why Larry was making fun of me.  What the hell did I do?  Soon a lot of kids at school were coming up to me and saying “Hi Billy!” and laughing.  The joke became that I was still a little kid; that while they were maturing, I was stuck in a state of arrested development.

“Billy!  Are you gonna play with Mommy and Daddy?  Have you been a good boy, Billy?”

I hated it.  My solution was simple – I’d drop the ‘y.’  That, I figured, would solve the problem entirely.  Want proof that I’m not a kid anymore?  Check out my name!  Bill!  Man, that would say it all.  It was easy to make fun of Billy…but Bill would be a whole different story.  Bill’s a stand up guy, the type of buddy you shoot the shit with.  So that was settled.  Billy was gone, and now I was Bill.

My father, though, was not having it.  I told the old man that I was Bill now, and he just sort of shrugged and said ‘no.’  That wasn’t happening, and for the next twenty years, he would insist on calling me Billy.  At school I’d walk down the hallway, having kids shout out “Billy, did Daddy help you dress today?!” or something like that, and I’d hang my head.  The real hurt came back at home, though, with my father.

“I’m Bill now,” I told him.  “I won’t respond to Billy.”

“Stop it Billy,” he said.  “You’re being ridiculous.”

I would sit in my bedroom and think, “Shit, the kids at school are right.  I AM still a baby.”  Then I would take my mind off things by playing with my Ninja Turtle action figures.

Looking back on it, the whole thing seems silly.  At the time, though, nothing made me feel smaller than when my dad called me Billy.  I hadn’t really thought about it until I wrote that blog post, and then my mind went to Cooper.

Part Four – Post Jackass

“Hey Cooper,” I said, right before I wrote his name on the board for our class game.  “How do you spell your name again?”

The kid stuck to his guns.  “K-u-p-e-r.”

“Yup,” I said.  “That’s right.”  I wrote his name like that on the board, and he was happy.  The battle over the spelling of his name was finished.  He had won.

In the big picture, kids don’t have control over a whole lot.  They’re told what to do, when to go to bed, what they will eat, and what things they can’t break.  Really, their names might be the only thing that is fully theirs; that they have ownership of.  That shouldn’t be taken away.  It’s important.

Now if I could just get the kid to stop writing ‘kat,’ ‘kar,’ and ‘korn on the kob,’ life would be golden.

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60 thoughts on “Writing about My Father Makes Me Realize I’m Being a Jackass and I Need to Chill Out

  1. I liked that you took this up in this post – sometimes we’re too busy being stubborn we forget that maybe there’s no need to be (but indeed sometimes there’s a need to be a little stubborn). :P

    • Very nicely put. That was pretty much the point. Who cares if a kid wants to be called “Bill” or “Kuper” or whatever – if it makes the person happy, why not just do it? I remember when I was in college and some jerkstore wanted to make a point about political correctness, and he said, “It’s stupid to have to call someone ‘African-American.’ You don’t see me wanting to be called ‘European American.’” I just thought…if a person feels better being called African-American…shut up and do it.

      Okay, kind of got sidetracked there! I ramble. Thanks so much for the comment, Got My Book! : )

  2. Exodus

    we Vietnamese often have 2 names, one real name (the official one on papers) and one nickname (which is usually very weird and used only among family members). of course that our parents refuse to use the real name to call us (there is a mythical reason behind this, but it’s off the point, so i’m not gonna mention it). this is fine, most of the time. it even makes us feel like home when we’re around our family members, you know. however, it does feel awkward when my friends come over for dinner/group study, and my mum insists on calling me and/or referring to me only by my bizarre nickname. *sigh*

    at least, Billy doesn’t sound weird.

    also, i have a student who insists on being called Kaylan. i like the name. i just never saw it was spellt that way before.

    • Life as Mia

      Id love to know more about the myth behind it!
      It sounds very intresting to be honest…

      Im always called Mia, but my name IS Miamariah, some even call me Maria, and I have TWO middle names too… Jeez I sound like the damn queen of England when I need to give my full name… XD

      • That’s really interesting to learn about Vietnamese culture. When I first came to Asia, I tried to be a good, intelligent Westerner and memorize the kids’ Korean names. It sounds pitiful, but I couldn’t do it. Not even close. Each name has three parts and when you have 35 students in a class…that’s like a bazillion names to memorize. So now they have English names. It’s a little sad, like how whites passed legislation in America to assimilate Native Americans and got them to change their names from “Runs with Foxes” or something to “Bob.” Oh well. At least I can call each individual kid by “name” now.

        Miamariah is a wonderful name! It rhymes! I like Mia better than Maria. Fine choice. : )

      • Exodus

        well, old folks believe (young people still do now, i think) that some evil spirits tend to draw to people with beautiful, meaningful names (mind you that Vietnamese names have meanings as the parents’ wishes for their children) and babies with beautiful, meaningful names tend not to grow up easily and healthily. those two reasons lead to one solution: the weird nicknames. our parents use the weird nicknames to call us in order to protect us from the evil spirits (at least, they believe so) and after, well, a couple dozen of years of doing so, they get so used to the nicknames that they refuse to use the beautiful, meaningful names that they came up for us when we were born.

      • Exodus

        English names have meanings as well, right? like your name, Bill, is short for William (if i’m not too mistaken). and if i remember correctly, William means ‘protector’.

        my name means ‘orchid’.

      • I think “orchid” is beautiful.

        “Protector” sounds pretty hardcore…I suppose I need to live up to that and start protecting things. Like what? I don’t know. Find me something, and I’ll protect the heck out of it.

        Lovely comment, Ling aka Dus. : )

  3. I remember fighting with my 9 year old daughter about her hair, until the day she shouted “you’re not the boss of my hair!” I came to the same realization that you did: kids need to be the boss of something, and those of us in control just need to lighten up. Works with teaching, too. I have a feeling you’re a great teacher. You certainly write a great blog. Thanks.

    • That’s a nice little story…illustrates the same idea well. I like how you phrase it too – “lighten up.” Because that’s exactly what it is. There’s no real reason to be in control of a kid’s hair (or name, or what he wears, etc)…the only consequence for letting your kid have more control is that he/she will become more responsible and gain a better self of sense (and perhaps embarrass himself/herself a little, but that’s okay). Who wants that?

      Thanks for the compliments. And the comment, Westerner 54!

  4. Good reading and so apt. In our case, our Eldest was named Raeden and over the years (all 6 of them) she became Rae. Until the other day, when with her serious face she asked me why I call her Rae when we had named her RaeDEN! We pay special attention now – just to avoid that face again. Thanks for sharing something I could nod and say ‘yes’ to.

      • That’s so good of you to be attentive (and respectful of your child’s needs) like that. You must be great parents! And, really, you helped the cause by giving her a good name to begin with. I agree with Mia that Rae is a cute nickname, so either way – Rae or Raeden – she’s in good shape. That places her well ahead of most of her peers, I think.

        Thanks a ton for sharing that, Mel!

  5. Life as Mia

    Loved your blog.

    Kids do need to put a line somewhere, no mather how small, and a gold star to you, for letting the little guy get a word through. Alot of people just pretends their air… ”Yea yea ofcourse kid” – and does whatever they want… *sigh* at those people!

    • Yeah, because it’s so stupid to fight with a kid. I was only displaying control. Who really gives a crap how some Korean kid spells his made-up English name? Get down with your bad self, Super Kuper!

      You’re the best Mia! Thanks (again :) ) for the comments!

    • Hi Emily! You’re the girl who lives in Taiwan I believe. I know this because your comment on the ear hoodie post was the next one for me to reply to, but I burnt out and didn’t get to it. But I found it interesting that you live in Taiwan and looked at your blog and liked the pics. (Trying to decide if I’ll be angry with myself if, when I leave Asia, I don’t see Taiwan or China. Still not sure!)

      Anyways, I hope you fund what you’re looking for. You know what they say – “Funders keepers!” Haha Thanks so much for the comment. : )

  6. really nice post, It’s been great to come across with your blog since I’m broadening my view of a culture I don’t know anything about but I find extremely interesting.
    Also I love the humorous way in which you write your stories, it really makes eager to read more and more.

    • Hey, thanks a ton! I really dig the look of your blog. Not that the content isn’t good as well – I’m just saying that when I clicked on it, I was impressed. You have a good set up there. It looks fantastic. I’m jealous!

      Although I’m not really a black background type of person, I don’t think. I’m not badass enough for that. My harmless cream colored background suits my personality I believe.

      Anyways, now I’m rambling again. Thank you very much for the kind words and for taking the time to comment, Jhennie. : )

  7. Stephanie

    I just started reading your blog, and I love it. Keep doing what you’re doing, and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  8. Eek. The moments we see our parents in ourselves is like a huge milestone in the 30-something (that seems as if that is the age when it begins to *really* become apparent). When I start saying things like “One must learn to be fiscally responsible,” or “Cara, when are you going to start being a productive member in society instead of feeding at the public trough?” I am reminded that I am my father’s daughter and there isn’t much I can do to escape that. Except we can choose to be a better version of our parents; that’s about it. And by the sound of it, you are doing just that.

    • Really good point! That’s interesting, because I never even thought about that really. I thought about my dad…but I just related to the little kid. I didn’t think of myself as being my father. I mean, you’re absolutely 100% right…it’s kind of weird that I identified with the little grade schooler and not the adult though. Hmm. I’m not sure what that says about me.

      Thanks always for taking the time to comment (and thoughtfully), Cara! I would try one of your recipes, but not a lot of ingredients are available here and I have no oven. : )

      • NO OVEN??? I think I would collapse and die if I had no oven. <–I'm not even exaggerating either. Cooking keeps me sane. It is my human attachment that must never be taken away from me. In fact, if an apartment doesn't has a gas stove, I won't rent it (oven snob)…

        It's not weird at all why you would identify with the little kid in this. I think what we see out of our circumstances (ie: our identification of objects, people, etc) greatly reflects where we are in life. It's as you there is still a part of you (or maybe that little you) that is sticking up to your dad even simply by accepting Kuper's name. Isn't it funny how we subconsciously work out our issues?

      • Ha! I like your read, Cara, and you’re probably right. : )

        Yeah, the apartments in Korea don’t have ovens. You just get a gas burner and a microwave. I recently bought a little toaster oven but it isn’t the same. One friend of mine also bought a toaster over – she made a batch of cookies and had to bake like four at a time. It took awhile.

        Always swell to hear from you, Cara. : )

  9. Interesting post. Gives you much to ponder upon.
    Sometimes we elders just stick to our ideas almost leaving no space for the little ones to keep their heads up and speak their minds

    • Couldn’t agree more! Our kids get thrust into the system pretty quickly nowadays; I remember teaching at elementary school in the States and we had like a 35 minute block for play recess…the rest of the day was nonstop curriculum to prepare for testing. Maybe that future generation will be smarter…who knows.

      Anyways, thanks for the comment, Silent Myth. You tha man!

      • What! You’re not a guy? Oh my…I’m so embarrassed! I don’t know why I thought that. I guess when you commented about gaining weight, I assumed you were a guy. Whoops!!!

        Well, that’s cool! Actually, it would probably be a good thing then if someone said you looked like Sandara Park. Haha. I’m such an idiot.

        Sorry Myth! Love ya!

    • Yeah, Billy is too cute a name. It doesn’t really bring to mind a sophisticated guy in a suit, does it? Nope. There was no President Billy Clinton. He was Bill. There was Billy Carter, but he was just the President’s brother, and was also a doofus.

      Thanks for the comment, Besonia!

    • I think Alex B. Keaton set the standard when it comes to the name Alex. In other words, if I was an Alexander, I would have to choose to be “Alex-Middle Initial-Last Name.”

      Alex R. Panara. It just sounds so, so good.

  10. What’s his taken on the Kardashians?

    Seriously though, that line about the KKK totally cracked me up.

    Names are hard to shake. I had this completely crazy softball coach call me “V” for the entire season when I was eleven and it totally ground my gears. So of course my sister picked right up on that and has been calling me “V” for the last 14 years or so. I’ve softened over time, but so help me, she’s the only one I’ll ever abide calling me that.

    Great post as always!

    • Thanks V!

      Kidding, kidding. Yeah, nicknames can be rough. There’s one little kid in the school named “Mike” who all the kids call “Milk.” He hates it and gets really upset. Honestly, I find “Milk” pretty funny and wish I could call him that myself. There’s no underlying meanness to it; they’re really little and they think it’s funny to call him Milk. But it upsets him so I try to refrain…despite it’s awesomeness.

      Loved the story – thanks for sharing it Ethel! : )

  11. I just started reading your blog and sharing it with others, I truly admire your excellent writing ability…it might say something about mine that I’m doing this instead of my Language final. This post really says something about you as a person, I think we can all be assholes sometimes but it takes a special person to admit it when they are and learn to let the small stuff go. Keep writing and inspiring :)

  12. Elizabeth

    This post reminds me a bit of myself. My first name is Elizabeth, and to date I have about 40+ nicknames.. I stopped counting after 40. My most common one is “Lizzie” and I’m adamant that people spell it with an -ie instead of the conventional Lizzy with a -y. I like this Kuper kid.

    • Kuper was a weirdo in class the other day and smeared red crayon all over his face (and the desk as well). He did that and then sort of fell into a state of depression, like “why the hell did I just do that?”

      Yeah, Elizabeth is a good one, lots of different options there. Beth, Liz, Zab, etc. I will make sure I always spell your name exactly how you’d like, Lizzie. : )

      Thanks for commenting. Peaces!

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