I did not like the gift I was given in my Christmas stocking in 2009 and I still feel terrible about it. Gift giving! Where graciousness and gratitude meet! The blessed morning! And there I was—bummed.
That morning when I reached into my handmade stocking, made both festive and rough with gold glitter, I pulled out a brown T-Shirt with a graphic of gaudy guitars arranged to form a ring— in the center it read: LORD OF THE STRINGS in vaguely Tolkein-esque script. I should have loved this gift. It arrived two years after I became infatuated with the guitar as an instrument, as an icon and as a lifestyle and, like, eight years into my (still running) love for The Lord of the Rings. And I wasn’t far removed from wearing those stupid, campy graphic T-shirts from Kohl’s. But I didn’t like it. At all.
At fifteen years old, I was starting to realize that “guitar” is not a personality. Also, having lived through the prequel era of Star Wars and Harry Potter mania, I was aware that slapping logos or brand-specific fonts on products is often more of a scam than a celebration of the thing itself. This shirt held things that I loved with no recognition of why I loved them. It felt like it was telling a story about me that was inaccurate and that I had no control over.
I don’t fault my parents for thinking I would like this shirt. How were they supposed to know the opinions my teenage brain was formulating but not articulating? I imagine parenting is like this often—you fight your hardest to wholly understand your child’s ever-expanding life, but eventually you can’t keep up. The interests can be tracked, recognized, and filed away for reference, but what animates those interests remains a mystery. Life and culture are so fluid and fast-changing that I don’t think every parent should be expected to understand the marrow that fills the bones of what their children love.
That’s, I think, the hardest part of this story—it’s nobody’s fault.
I didn’t like the shirt for aesthetic reasons, but this was maybe my first realization that a person’s life outgrows their parent’s vision for it. At some point, you’ve seen, read, or experienced things that you understand differently than your parents, just as they did with their parents. At some point, your inner life develops into something that is hard to recognize and even harder to explain. Holding and looking at a LORD OF THE STRINGS shirt felt like a moment of choice: submit to the story it told about me and go back to the nest or continue developing into my own person, regardless of how difficult the separation might be.
I chose not to wear the shirt. I remember my parents sensing my hesitance right when I pulled it out of the stocking and held it to my torso—only halfway projecting myself according to its vision, unwilling to be fully inside it. Despite the gift’s low stakes and my reassurance that I was, indeed, thankful for its sentiment, I’m sure they felt bummed too.
Jordan Petersen Kamp graduated in 2017. He works as the controller for Trellis, a certified Herman Miller furniture dealer located in West Michigan. In his spare time he enjoys talking about the books and albums he looks forward to reading and listening to someday—the ones that he’s definitely heard of but not heard or read yet.