STOCKTON, CA—Citing numerous examples of ostracization and failure to fit in, all of Paul and Martha Klessig's three children see themselves as the black sheep of the family.
"I've always been the outcast," said son Jack Klessig, 21, a video-store assistant manager and aspiring musician. "Everybody else in my family, they're all, like, these total straight arrows and super-responsible. I'm the only one who's wandered off the traditional path."
Continued Jack: "Mom and Dad are so proud of Anna and Tim. See, Tim is engaged and is co-owner of a landscaping business, and Mary is actually using her art degree to do her metal work. I got a history degree, but I'm just doing my thing, hoping the band takes off. They think I'm wasting my education and going nowhere."
Tim, at 29 the oldest of the three Klessig children, feels a similar sense of alienation from the family.
"I am definitely the odd man out," Tim said. "Mom and Dad know that I'm the only one who smokes pot. You'd think that being in a band, Jack would be a big pot guy, but he doesn't do any drugs. Same with Anna. You gotta be straitlaced to fit in with the Klessigs, and I'm anything but."
"It also doesn't help that I'm the oldest but still the least responsible," Tim added. "Jack always remembers birthdays and is really good about keeping in touch with phone calls and e-mails, even though he lives in another city. Anna gives Mom and Dad the most thoughtful gifts. Shit, I'm lucky if I can remember my own goddamn birthday. I mean, they're my family, and I love them, but I'll never really belong the way Jack and Anna do. I swear, sometimes I think I'm adopted."
Anna, 27, said she has felt vaguely disconnected from her family since she was a teenager.
"Even when I was 14, I knew I was different," Anna said. "Mom and Dad spent way more time with the boys. We'd take family camping trips, and while everyone would be off fishing together, I'd hang back at the campsite and do something creative by myself. And now that I make my living as an independent jewelry designer, that just confirms their suspicions about me being some artsy, loner weirdo."
Anna also feels that her status as a single woman in her late 20s has increased her marginalization.
"I'm happily unmarried, and that really blows my parents' minds," Anna said. "Tim is getting married in October, and it's okay for Jack not to be married, because he's a guy, and he's only 21. But not me. Mom thinks I should have a husband and a bunch of screaming babies at my feet. I'm sorry, but if not wanting that puts me on the outside, so be it."
Told of her children's feelings, Martha Klessig expressed confusion.
"I'm not sure why they feel that way, " Martha said. "We don't have a judgment scale for our offspring. They're all our children, and we love each of them equally. It's not like my family growing up: I stuck out like a sore thumb because I read poetry and dropped out of college while my brothers got business degrees."