Little Jimmy once bugged you for candy…and you thought the sugar rush was already a major headache.
But time will come, when lollipops will fail to bring a smile to his face. Just when you thought you’ve gotten the hang of fatherhood, life will up the ante and make things more interesting. CHANGES and CHALLENGES will arise. There will be episodes that can cause a full-grown man to whimper in fetal position.
In 10-12 years, she will outgrow Kool-Aid and the doggie bag, and will create a world of her own. A world of pop stars and the latest gizmos. A world where parental supervision is cancerous. One involving a room with more security features than Fort Knox.
This will be a time of odd behavior, questionable choices, and ghastly sense of fashion. Father & Child will converse like 2 deaf persons in a vacuum, engaging in Psychological warfare and verbal ballet peppered with vicious insults, threats, and newly-coined phrases. Underscored in all this is the battle for CONTROL:
— ‘Oh, no way are you wearing that! Go back upstairs and turn back time, now! No daughter of mine will look like some 40-year old woman standing on some corner, chewing some gum! ‘
— ‘Get out of my room! Who told you you can come here?! Did I summon you to my chambers, father?’
–‘This, your room?! Look above you missy. It’s my roof! And as long as you’re breathing under my roof and eating and throwing-up my food, you’re gonna do what I tell you! Now turn in your laundry so I can hand wash them!’
–On the phone: ‘Go home right this instant! Don’t tell me you’re with Jenny. I’m looking her in those cute petrified little eyes right now.’
–‘I hate you! I hate you! Thank you for ruining my life!!!’
–‘Can’t wait to be 18 and bust out of this prison!’
— ‘This is my body, and I will do anything I want with it! I’m getting that tattoo and there’s nothing in hell you can do about it, son!!!’
Slipping the work shoes off your weary feet, you ruminate about where all the changes are coming from. Because for sure you haven’t changed, and your style never caused a ripple before. She used to revere curfews. Now, she’s threatening a class action suit! (When did midnight become too early to come home?!)
You better pick up on the nuances fast. Because if you still believe that, ‘Go to your room!’ is corporal punishment, you’re in the wrong era. You have just sent that rebel to a joyful reunion with all that is awesome and good because he’s hoarded everything in that room!
These turbulent years will be the real test of fatherhood. Things can easily take a turn for the worse. While everybody accepts that having a teenager in the house turns Eden into the set of Jerry Springer, it is still unnerving for the parent who can’t understand how hormones can rock a relationship so carefully built over the years.
You were comfortable being her ‘Number 1’. Now, you feel like Number 2 – an affair relegated to the toilet. Obviously, you don’t deserve the treatment because you’ve done nothing but love that boy, and the Law of Reciprocity demands that it become a love fest. Instead, he’s firing pellet guns at you.
(Surprise, surprise, your pet alligator is beginning to think you’re a snack. Who would have thought? I mean, that almost never happens.)
You miss that once-sweet tot who bugged you about where the sun goes at night or ‘Why does grandpa have white hair?’ Now, he knows where the sun goes and he’s been tailing it every night.
You may be living in the same house, but your worlds are flying apart like Aunt Lily’s girdle. Not that you two didn’t try to bond or anything, but every day, you’re finding less and less common ground and more and more space between. So much so, that in days of peace, the hum of silence in the car or at the dinner table can be so awkward it’s almost rude. You wish something was up. You’ll be tempted to broach a touchy subject, just to break silence. Because here’s the thing: You know her just enough to realize that you’ve got nothing in common that’s worthy of real conversation.
You miss that little girl who ventured to your room and climbed your bed Sunday mornings, asking to be taken to the park. You appreciate those sleepy mornings, because now, the only delight she has in you, is when you hand her this week’s allowance.
You’re 40. She’s 14. That should really sum up everything wrong in the world. She cries, ‘The night is young and so are we!’ You yell, ‘No, lambs are dumb and so are you!’ You’re mourning her coming freedom…she’s celebrating it. He feels invincible…you’ve seen how accidents can sneak up on the stupid. They’re excited about the world…you’re tired and have been disillusioned by it. Of course, you won’t see eye-to-eye! How can you level with somebody whose party philosophy is, ‘It is easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission’?!
You may fancy yourself a Russian ballerina…flexible. But she’ll still think you too stiff. You may be a cool dad, even her friends might think so. But not to the person who matters most. And it doesn’t matter if you boast of a thousand great qualities, she will fixate on the 1 or 2 that makes you the worst human being alive. (You think your sadistic boss is hard to please? Try a hormonally imbalanced teenager.)
Yeah, you were cool once, but not anymore. You stopped being cool when you grounded her for lying. And she’s so not into you right now. After all, you’re the middle-aged alarmist-pessimist who’s ruining her social profile.
Dad: Aren’t you too early for this party?
Daughter: No dad, we said we’ll meet up at Jessie’s at 7.
Dad: No, I meant, aren’t you 5 years too early for this party?
‘We are only doing this because we love you, honey!’ – well, that line never works! This is one of those instances when the sweetest and most absolute of truths rings like a big joke. Because if you really love her, you would have upped her allowance, you would have allowed her to attend that party. Instead, you holed her up in the house when other parents drove their kid to the concert. So where’s this ‘LOVE’ you talk about?!
TEENS – they don’t consider themselves kids. As early as 10, they stopped kidding themselves. It’s the parents who seem to suffer the ambiguity when looking at the hairy dude who still needs to be reminded to brush his teeth. So for convenience: If it’s cleaning their rooms, they’re adults. If it’s about a road trip, they’re just a bunch of kids with fake licenses who won’t step on the brakes even if their lives depended on it.
‘Child or adult, it doesn’t matter. I’m older, so that settles it,’ you reason.
While being older gives you the de facto power, it may even seem a convenience – it’s really not. Age is, in fact, a curse. A curse because it gives daddy a glimpse of the future. Daddy knows what would happen if Lizzie doesn’t salivate on her books under a study lamp, or if Johnny doesn’t really apply himself. A father has calculated the odds of a band making it big, of earning a living out of a squeaky guitar. Wisdom and life experience can only give one the creeps – especially when dreams are measured against realistic probabilities.
Make no mistake, age is not to your advantage, because on that very issue, they will masterfully turn the tables on you: YOU WERE 16 ONCE!
And that statement has no sufficient parental defense, for it is as valid and true as Woodstock ’69. You were 16 once and you should get it. You should identify with the upheavals in the life of a teenager, instead of brandishing your own life experiences you ego-maniac. You’ve made a few mistakes, so why couldn’t he? You turned out pretty well, didn’t you? Not to mention the fact that it’s his life. If she gets hurt, then so what?!
Hell is full of teenagers, with surprisingly high IQ’s, with the uncanny ability to argue themselves out of an unbailable offense. (You’re witnessing the makings of a hotshot lawyer. Isn’t that your dream?)
In the battle between Experience and Youth, the Youth screams: We’re young and hip, you’re old and gray. Move over and we’ll change the world!
Quite smugly, Experience hisses: You’ll die without your allowance, shut up and clean your room!
Oldies always knock the ones following them – painting for themselves a picture of saints in high school. ‘We bowed to our elders, religiously followed all the rules and had no vices whatsoever. We were so cool!’ This nostalgic reminisce is propped with stories retold evermore of how idyllic it was in the old days. ‘During my time, things were a lot different.’
But as human history would bear, things are a lot more similar than different. And no, there never was a holy generation in high school! Ever! Teens rebelled against parents. Parents wished they’d drowned the ingrate bastards years before. It is still the same bone of contention.
It will always be like that.
At every time and age, fathers around the world will always struggle at first sight of that rugged ‘friend’ his daughter drags home. He may keep it together for her sake, but in the recesses of his mind, the boy is minced-meat. Because to a father, every guy Lizzie sits with at the school cafeteria is a future son-in-law and is therefore worthy of castration. While squeezing a smile, he’s thinking, ‘Touch my daughter once, and I’ll make sure you’re wheeled through my front door in horizontal position! Oh yeah, try me.’
Fathers will always be like that.
And because the ‘Parent vs. Teenager’ drama has been fought for many generations, we are familiar to the eventual outcome – the same side always wins. Parents eventually cave in. If not…in time, the children would have outgrown them, anyway. Their knees would grow weak and their boy will embarrass them not only in basketball, Math and technology.
Nature intended it this way. And so, while we still have that roar in our spirits, we try to cram as much life lessons into their young minds, in the hope that someday, those seeds will bear fruit. That in the crucial points of life, our voices will come screaming on their consciences. So we give great speeches, whether they listen or not. We mete out punishments, whether they appreciate it or not – because that’s all we can really do. Whether he likes it or not, a father has to release his teenager into the world of sex, cigarettes, booze and pot – and trust that he makes the right calls.
(The reason parents drive their geniuses to the university for freshman year is not just to help carry stuff or check the school and living situation. It’s because they don’t trust the kid to survive the trip from home to dorm.)
Near the end of these turbulent years, the issue ceases to be about POWER and CONTROL… that would have been resolved by then. The issue would then be about LETTING GO.
Look at the boy with the nose ring. Not easy conceding defeat to that one, is it? But you have to let him go.
We have to let them go, like bowlers let go of the ball – despite the world not being as smooth as bowling lanes. We have to let them go…with a prayer that they don’t hit gutter.
ALL THE WORLD’S FATHERS HAVE IS A PRAYER.
***[This article is an excerpt from ‘THE FAMILY MAN: Get me outta here!’]