A memoir about murder, surfing, and that complex relationship we have with our parents

May 20, 2013

Author and Western Michigan University alum Kelly Daniels will read from his memoir Cloudbreak California on Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo. Cloudbreak California begins with Daniels’ father who confesses to murdering a man and then disappears. Then the story follows Daniels as he travels to places like Mexico and Guatemala, living simply, meeting colorful characters, and searching for a story to write.

Credit Sheryl Johnston Communications
Author Kelly Daniels
Credit Sheryl Johnston Communications

A lot of the book centers around Daniels’ eccentric parents.

“My earlier memories are when we moved to a place called Anza, California. A place in the desert with only a few hundred people scattered around, big rocks and cactus, big red ants and that kind of thing. And I lived there with my mother and my brother. And my father would just show up with holes in his jeans and an old guitar case slung over his back, and just show up and take me out hitchhiking to the coast or something like that. My mother was living a ‘natural lifestyle’ you might say. She was gardening and had dreams of having animals. Before that we lived in a step van that had been converted for living, with bunks and an ice chest and a propane stove, traveling around. We lived in a commune in Hawaii for a while. And eventually my mother got interested in religion and she joined what some would consider a cult. Others would called it a Christian sect. But that really kind of took over and we started moving closer to civilization at that point. But that’s a snapshot of my folks. They were first…like that early generation hippies. I was born in 1967. My father was 18 and my mother was 19, I believe, when I was born. And so they were just kids and they bought into the counter-cultural movement completely without a lot of education or resources to make it work. And so it was always an adventure you might say.”

After Daniels’ father tells him about the murder, he warns Daniels that the son of the man he killed might one day come after him. But Daniels says that wasn’t the reason why he took off for Central America, it was…

“The kind of dawning realization that I wasn’t special, that there was nothing romantic about what had happened. And my father made a really bad move and I was the kid and that was it. And I was heading toward being nobody special in life, especially into my twenties where people were started to get jobs and do things and all I could really do is wait tables. It was my only marketable skill. And so Central America and Mexico were exotic locales. I just…I felt like I was special, like I was meant for something. And everybody does feel like that at some point or another, but I held on to that for much longer than I probably should have. And so I was trying to make the special thing happen by living this risky way.”

In the book, Daniels has a very complicated relationship with his father—always talking about his flaws, yet still seeking his approval. Like how he wanted to be a surfer just like his dad.

“There’s the heart and the head. And I think that my intellect has always known who he is and his faults. But yet still you just can’t help wanting what you want, whether it makes sense or not. And surfing is very cool, you know. Surfers are…everybody likes surfers. I’ve never met anybody, except maybe in California, who really knows a lot of surfers. But most people just think ‘Oh, yeah, surfing—what a life!’ Especially that older generation surfer. Before they got into contests and wave bashing and all that, they were these soul surfers. They just wanted to commune with nature and hang out with dolphins. And that’s real. That whole going out in the waves thing really is a connection to nature that’s unlike almost anything else I can think of. So I still respect that part of my father.”