Senior year of high school, my boyfriend and I sneaked out to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts at 2 a.m. — we wanted to see if the store did, in fact, sell doughnuts 24 hours a day (it did). But, dutiful child that I was, I left a note on my pillow letting my parents know where I’d be and turned on my cell phone. I sneaked out successfully, but left my bedroom door open and got caught glaze-handed.
It was the only time I broke the rules in high school. As a teenager, I found that it was more beneficial to cooperate with my parents than to rebel against them. A poli-sci major in the making, I realized that I could maximize my utility by earning my parents’ trust. By following the rules, I got my own car (albeit a 1984 yellow Volvo station wagon), hundreds of dollars of Gap clothing, and no curfew. In fact, my biggest act of rebellion in my young life was going to Yale.
I come from a die-hard Stanford family. My parents met as undergraduates on “The Farm,” and they both work there today. My brother’s freshman dorm is a stone’s throw from my mom’s office. The Fenners bleed Cardinal.
But I insisted on going off to the Ivy League, 3,000 miles away from home, in order to establish my independence, escape the label of “legacy” and — perhaps most importantly — learn the true meaning of “winter.”
After this grand gesture, however, my rebellion cooled. Once at college, my parents were no longer watching, and I certainly could have rebelled. But I didn’t know where to begin. I went to parties and consumed significant amounts of cheap beer and lousy punch my first year of college, but I never drank myself sick or did anything downright debaucherous. But going to parties couldn’t have been a very meaningful form of rebellion anyway.
At least not compared to what my dad did in college, when he left his “Leave it to Beaver” childhood in Corvallis, Ore., for Stanford in the early ’70s. He grew his hair long and wore beads. He traded Presbyterianism for Eastern religion and the Republican Party for the Democratic Party. He became a vegetarian while living in the non-violence theme house, where he met my mother, a Jew. Although my dad has long since cut his hair and stowed his beads, he is currently a Prius-driving vegetarian. In other words, there has never been much room on the Left for me to rebel.
Instead, I have taken a cue from one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, in which Calvin tries to annoy his parents — members of my parents’ generation — by listening to smooth jazz instead of rock ‘n’ roll. “And I turn it down real low,” he tells Hobbes. Following Calvin’s lead, I have rebelled against my parents by becoming more conservative. I now sport Polo shirts and pearls, and I have developed a strong admiration for Henry Kissinger. I even bought a poster.
But that’s as far as I have been willing to take my rebellion. I am proud to be a preppy meat-eater, but I don’t dare cross over to the dark side and switch my party affiliation to Republican. (Although the Bush Doctrine has some intellectual appeal, our president’s domestic policy churns my stomach.)
So that seems to be it for my rebellion, and this realization troubles me. I have always believed that an important part of going to college is forming your own identity; you have to figure out where your parents end and you begin. But is it possible to independently turn out like your parents? It certainly makes sense: Following the nature theory of human behavior, we have the same genetic material as our parents, so it’s no surprise if we turn out somewhat like them. Subscribing to the nurture theory, we were raised by our parents, so it’s not surprising if we share their tastes and values. Is the only way to turn out differently from our parents to rebel against them?
As I finish my last few months at Yale and look toward my future, I fear that I will turn out to be a clone of my mom and dad — a lawyer living in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, I’m on my way there: I plan to attend law school in California next year.
But my situation is more complicated because I genuinely want to be a lawyer and I would love to live in the Bay Area someday. It would be irrational of me to rule out a potential career and region simply because I would share them with my parents. And even though I may have ended up in a similar place, I have developed a distinct identity through the experiences that led me there.
Unfortunately, aspects such as career and place of residence are easiest to observe, and, on the surface, my life may turn out to look like a variation on my parents’ theme. But I take comfort in knowing that next year, when I drive to Krispy Kreme on a late-night study break, my car will be sporting Yale Alumni license plate holders — a reminder of my biggest act of rebellion and the journey that has led me home.
Emily Fenner is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.