I don’t want to build character

Burt's Eye View

For every distasteful task and unpleasant chore, Dad assured us that “it builds character.”

“The whole pig pen? You want us to shovel and scrape all the muck and gunk down the cement? Why? They’re just going to mess it up again.”

“Mucking hogs builds character,” Dad said.

I didn’t want to build character any more than I wanted to shovel pig manure. I wanted to lie on the couch and read comic books. Comic books provided plenty all the characters that I could ask for.

Would the Batman shovel the pigpen? Would he ever get the smell out of his cape?

Could Spider-Man hang upside down and scrape?

I know what character I’d want cleaning the pigs — Superman. With his super muscles and super speed. Better yet, invite my pesky cousin over and use super breath to huff and puff and blow that gunk all over the pest.

No, no, I really wouldn’t do that, even if I was a character because Dad would make me clean up all the unauthorized spraying of fertilizer.

Cleaning hogs built me into a character who keeps no hogs at all. No pigs means no mucking. True, I don’t know where my bacon and pork chops came from. I’m OK with that.

The Urban Dictionary defines “builds character” as “A phrase someone uses to describe something that they want you to do, but you realize it will require anguish or a lack of enjoyment on your part. … Usually used by people who consider themselves benevolent authority figures.”

More character-building happened because I was sent to school dressed in hand-me-downs and discount bin castoffs.

“Ma, I can’t wear these peg legs to junior high school. I’ll look like a dork. Everyone wears elephant bells.”

“You’ll look like someone who leads, not follows,” Mom said. “Wearing straight legs instead of flares build character.”

If I was going to build character, how about becoming a big, green one? Nobody laughed at the Incredible Hulk for wearing tattered, too-short purple pants.

I didn’t want to build character; I wanted to wear clothes that didn’t make me look like any more of a doofus than I already was. All that built is a guy who to this day knows so little about fashion that he never can remember if it’s vertical stripes or horizontal stripes that go with plaid.

Looking back on those days all these decades later, I can clearly see that this adversity didn’t just build character. It built a whole complex. No wonder therapy is a thriving business.

The great philosopher Calvin butted heads with building character frequently in Bill Watterson’s brilliant “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip.

Calvin’s dad loved to inflict character building, such as mosquito-infested and rain-soaked camping trips, on his wife and son.

“Think of what a fine young man you’re growing up to be,” Dad remarked on one of those camping trips.

“If all this character doesn’t kill me first,” Calvin retorted.

I think it’s high time we stopped building character. We’ve got too many weird characters running around making life miserable for everyone else. Let’s dig out the Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Pogo comic books and relish real characters instead.

— Contact character Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.


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