An Open LetterDear Daniel,

Let me preface this by acknowledging that there are two Daniels in 5th grade at Willow Creek Elementary, and this letter will address the Daniel with floppy blonde hair and braces, so if you are the taller, nicer Daniel with the dark hair, please disregard this.

To floppy-haired Daniel, I understand that you’re making fun of my son’s last name on the playground. Let me be up front in acknowledging that our last name – Kluck – is funny.  I know that because I grew up with it, and I grew up fighting in schoolyards because of it.  It’s a funny name, primarily, because it rhymes with other things that also are funny.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what those things are.

Daniel, you may find it interesting to know that I remember every fight I’ve ever been in in my 36 years.  I remember busting a kid’s nose beneath the Alyssa Milano poster in his bedroom in 1985.  I remember hearing a Madonna song playing through his older sister’s bedroom door as I raced out the backdoor of his house.  I remember picking up the piss-green rotary-dial phone in our kitchen because my mom made me call and apologize.

I remember the same kid punching me in the throat, and then beating me up in my backyard.  I remember beating up a kid at Middle School football practice, and then having the coach wink at me, knowingly, before sending me on a disciplinary jog for the rest of the practice.  I also remember, oddly, every lyric to the Chipmunks song, “Coward of the County,” which I listened to on my yellow Fisher-Price record player, and which I, at some point, disregarded.  At the end of that song, as you may recall, Tommy DOES beat up the bully and then goes and tells his prison-bound father that sometimes you do, actually, have to fight to be a man.

I should also (in the interest of full disclosure) let you know that in addition to writing whiny, self-indulgent memoirs, I manage a professional boxer in my free time and have a regulation boxing ring in my basement.  I should tell you that Tristan is starting on offense and defense for his pee-wee tackle football team, the coach of which is kind of a psycho.  He’s also an above average hurdler in summer track. Daniel, I’m not in any way trying to imply that you’re the kind of fifth-grader who has trouble reading subtext, but what I’m trying to say – in plainspeak – is that you might be about to get your ass kicked by one Tristan Kluck, grade 4.

Have you thought about the implications of this?  Have you thought what it might do to your reputation to take this kind of a humiliating beating from, and I’m quoting you here, “Chicken Kluck?”  And what’s more, have you thought through the social implications of being beaten in front of your friends by a fourth-grader?  I’ll give you a minute to consider that.

Ironically, Daniel, it may only be the official Willow Creek 64-page anti-bullying treatise that I read online and signed my name to (also electronically) that could end up keeping you from the kind of humbling but ultimately gracious and necessary beatdown that has kept playground bullies in their place and been, quote, “the best thing for them,” for generations.  I have no doubt that the best thing for you would be a bloody nose, courtesy of Chicken Kluck. I have no doubt that Tristan would be kind to you the following day in school because he is a kind boy – so kind, probably, that he may never raise a hand against you.  More kind than his father, in fact.

I also have no doubt – because I’m a realist, Daniel – that what will probably happen instead will be a series of fruitless, time-wasting controlled “dialogues” that include letters sent to your mom, who I assume was the loud lady with you at the pool who was often surrounded by several cans of Miller Light.

According to the 64-page treatise, fighting is not the answer.  I mostly agree with that though sometimes, honestly, I have my doubts.  Tristan walks away from trouble if he can.  But just to be safe, you’d better keep your head on a swivel tomorrow on the playground.


Tristan’s Dad

Ted Kluck is the author of several books, including Facing Tyson: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories and Paper Tiger: One Athlete’s Journey to the Underbelly of Pro Football, which was a 2008 Michigan Notable Book.  His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, and he teaches at Olivet College and Cornerstone University.

Photography by Michael McKniff