by Preston Burt
Recently, out of the blue, you confided in me, “Nobody gets me, Dad.” and my heart sank. Digging deeper, you revealed that people didn’t want to be around you or talk to you, because you were “weird.” I tried to comfort you by insisting that I was weird too, and hey, look at me now! But when you asked me if I was as strange as you when I was a preteen, I knew being direct was the best answer.
No. I didn’t act like you did when I was your age. I had my quirks, sure, but I was me and you’re a completely and wonderfully different person. I may not have meowed like a cat at inappropriate times, answered questions with silly faces when only a “yes” or “no” was needed, nor obsessively quoted random pop culture videos to strangers without context. Well, actually, yeah. Substitute your obscure YouTube video quote for something from Monty Python and maybe we aren’t too far apart.
Don’t get me wrong. I was weird too. When I was your age, my parents’ marriage disintegrated and I had recently moved from Chicago to Mississippi where I struggled to fit in. I had never been hunting, I said “you guys” instead of “y’all,” and I cried a lot in a school that seemed to represent everything I didn’t like in my life. Comic books, toys, and movies were my refuge in a world that didn’t seem to offer too many friends. As you know from living with me for the past 11 years, I certainly have many more examples that I could list to make a case for my own peculiar habits, but let’s get back to you. From your vantage point, my oddities don’t seem so strange, but here’s something you should know: your quirks are what make you unique and exciting.
I know your glasses and orthodontia make you feel even more self-conscious around your peers. I didn’t have ADD like you, and being a boy, I had different pressures than you face as a young woman, but trust me, EVERYONE feels awkward in their own skin at your age.
There are definitely going to be times to rein it in. Let’s be clear–there’s no such thing as being normal (who gets to define what “normal” is, anyway?), but I’ll admit it can be a tightrope act to try not to be different at times. There will definitely be times where you want to not stand out, and there will certainly be times where decorum requires you to fit in. But knowing when to fit in isn’t always selling out. Controlling your behavior to have more friends can have its advantages (I doubt your mother would have continued to date me if I only replied to her with Monty Python quotes), but that’s not an excuse to change who you are all the time.
I know it probably feels like Mom and I nag you nonstop about certain behaviors, but don’t be down on yourself. It’s just our job as parents to teach you what is and is not socially acceptable. And just as you’re frustrated from hearing us redirect you over and over, we as parents are equally as tired of having to ask. But that’s OK. I signed up for this. I’m willing to put in the work, because You. Are. Worth. It.
You are an incredibly gifted artist. You have a delectably wry sense of humor. You are so perceptive to other people’s emotions that you know when to cheer me up with a laugh before I even realize I am down. You put others before yourself and friends aren’t going to be a problem for you because you’re a kind person with a giant heart. It may just take some time. None of us were the perfect visions of ourselves when we were 11. Nobody has it figured out. I know it doesn’t feel like it now, because you’re in the thick of it, but things WILL get better for you.
You may feel like an outcast now, but you will eventually find a group of your peers who will love you for being you. When you find that special person who laughs at your jokes and who gets even your most obscure reference to Undertale, or whatever your pop culture du jour is, the connection you have with that new friend may well last you a lifetime.
In a world of conformity and mass consumption, it’s important to remember that many of our most celebrated creative minds had their own unique quirks. Many of them were considered weirdos in their own right, but nonetheless they made an indelible impact on this world, just as you will. You already have in mine. I am a different person because of you, a better person because of you. I pray for you to love yourself, who you are, who you will become. Weird is wonderful.
Preston is a writer and graphic designer. He lives outside Atlanta, GA with his awesome wife and two amazing daughters (6 and 10). The host of the Gameroom Junkies Podcast, he has an affinity for VHS tapes and an obsession with arcade games and pinball machines. He has written for Paste and RETRO Magazines and is a founder of the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo.