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Dadtastic!

June 17, 2010

In honor of Father’s Day…

I am still getting used to the fact that my daughters are now full-fledged teenagers. It has been hard for me to accept the fact that they are growing into young women, even though it apparently has been going on for quite some time now, right before my eyes.

I suppose this is just another adjustment I need to make. Hopefully, one that I will make soon, before they are out of the house and living on their own in New York City, working for an ad agency and texting me to meet them at Union Square Café so they can introduce me to their latest investment-banker boyfriends.

Being a father was so much more, well…easier, I guess is the word, when they were little.  I had a much greater confidence in my fathering abilities then. I knew I was a good dad, plain and simple.

There is a certain rhythm to parenting little children, even though you are mostly sleep-deprived and the house is always a mess and you barely have a minute to remember that you once had a vast expansive life all on your own. But I knew better what was expected of me then. They had their basic needs of course, and you had to make sure to keep them on their routines: bedtime; meal time; bath time. The rest was filled in with playing and adoration as we toss them into the air, hold their little hands, and carry them on our strong shoulders. 

And then there was the discipline – Oh, how easy the discipline was when they were little! I was so powerful, with a full deck of disciplinary cards to keep them on good behavior. There was the time-out, the stern voice, the ability to swoop them up and physically re-direct them. And sure, they could scream and tantrum and embarrass you in the supermarket, but the bottom line was that I was a lot bigger and hopefully had a much stronger command of the English vocabulary. Therefore I was pretty much in control of the situation. 

Plus, they needed me.

I have so many fond memories from when my girls were smaller – before they had their periods – when they adored me and snuggled with me and laughed at all my stupid jokes. They obediently did almost everything I told them to do. There’s nothing like a precious, naughty little girly daughter for a dad to love.

But, alas, soon enough, they get older, smarter, opinionated, and quite adept at text-messaging at lighting speeds.  The parent is no longer the center of the universe, as the orbiting child is now pulled away by the enormous gravitational forces from the massive cluster of peer-group friendships. In this new universe, the parent is no more significant than a passing meteor that circles every eighty years or so. A quaint point of interest, but not relevant.  The problem is that the parent hasn’t participated in this shift, and generally doesn’t see it coming.

What I worry about most as now that they’re teens is that I am no longer sure if we still have a relationship anymore. It has become so much more awkward to just simply talk with my girls. The other day I noticed that the bulk of our conversations are more like one-sided commands: “Clean your room.” “Get your homework done.” Or, when you are in a more patient frame of mind, they are posed as questions: “Did you feed the dog yet?” “Have you finished your homework?” “How many times have I told you No texting or computer until you’ve finished your homework!” “How in God’s name can you leave a wet towel on the floor every single morning no matter how many times I tell you to hang them up in bathroom?!”

Things can get out of hand quickly, because these commands must be repeated several times daily, or else the tiny shred of order and discipline we think we have will implode like a black hole. We just want them to learn to take on a few responsibilities, right? 

The sad truth is that our teenage children generally don’t want to talk to us anyway. We are no longer relevant to their lives. We are not cool. They don’t need us anymore.

It hurts sometimes.

But despite those dark moments when I question my fathering abilities, thank God, at least my wife is there to reassure me. I hope she’s right. And to my girls’ credit, they at least will write some very thoughtful notes in the cards they get me for birthdays and Fathers Day, telling me how much they love me, and how wonderful they think I am. Once they even bought me a t-shirt for Father’s Day that said, “DADTASTIC!

Well, I guess it is true that I do spend a fair amount of time carting them around, if that means anything.  And Lilly will still let me scratch her head when she goes to bed sometimes. And we can still get laughing real hard from time to time when I do those stupid tricks with the dog.

To further reassure myself, I started a new file in my brain called, “Why I am A Good Father.” I fill it up with memories, images, and conversations – evidence of my competent fatherhood skills, as if I am preparing for the day when the Dr. Dobson police will break into my house and interrogate me.

I recalled one particular event that stood out above all the others as the pinnacle of sacrificial love of a father for his daughter. It is called the “Period Purchase” test. 

This is the one where the dad has to run out to the store upon emergency request and purchase the daughters’ maxi-pads, tampons and other feminine gadgetry without complaint.

I know I’m a good Dad, because last year I took my  twelve-year old daughter to the store to help her pick out the right pads.

I don’t remember where my wife was at the time, but there we were, staring at a huge wall of feminine hygiene products which offered a cheerful array of colorful selections. It was overwhelming. We slowly began to make sense of the vastness, narrowing down by category, attempting to decipher the correct choice. She reached for a box.

“No honey, not those – they’re not the right colored box. Remember? It’s blue and green?” She puts the box back and reconsiders the wall. 

“These, dad?” I examine the packaging closely.

 “Oh—no, not those… Those are overnights. You don’t need all that padding. Hey – look at these. Here it is.”

We hold up the package and study the color, the cartoon depiction of its contents and the secret-code product description.

 “All right, honey, I think we’ve got the right one here. Okay?”

 “Okay.”

 “Oh – and don’t forget to get the tampons, too. You need both.”

 “Okay.”

I honestly don’t know why they need both, but for some reason they do.  We picked up a couple other items before making our way to the register.

I got in line and glared at the shoppers around me. “What are you looking at?” I was focused, determined. I am the proud father of a beautiful young teenage girl!

I imagined the women in the lines nearby watching as I confidently pulled out the Always package from my shopping basket and casually tossed it on to the moving belt.

“Awww, look at this Sheila!” one would whisper to the other. “He’s buying pads together with his daughter!” 

“What a fantastic father!” the friend replies in a whisper, as the virility of her own husband diminishes.

“Not just fantastic,” I reply to my imaginary admirers. “I am Dadtastic!”

The cashier rings us up. Batteries (bleep!). Light bulbs (bleep!). Snickers (bleep!). Maxipads (bleep!). Tampons (bleep!). Sixteen thirty two? Here ya go. It’s just another trip to the grocery store for me, ladies.

I take my little girl’s hand in mine as we carry our bag of groceries back out to the car. She does not pull away.

Photo by nAncY.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2010 3:36 pm

    Someday, your daughters will love this post…until they read the very end. “Dad, how could you?”

    I love the part about the Dobson police, casing out your house for proof.

    But most of all, I feel your sadness of letting go. Now, my kids are gone out of the house and I so wish for a dozen more to take their place.

    My mom told me once that from the very first day they are born, kids are working their way toward freedom. There are many times when I felt abused, frustrated, denigrated and shamed by my kids. But today, they love me. In fact, we are going on a five day guys only camping trip that I hope we will do every year, no matter how old they get.

    • June 19, 2010 2:01 pm

      That camping trip with the kids sounds awesome! I’ll be there with you soon, I hope!

      And isn’t everyone afraid of the Dobson police?

  2. June 17, 2010 3:40 pm

    i am one of your real admirers, mr. dadtastic :-).

    happy dad’s day !

    what a hoot…

  3. June 17, 2010 4:18 pm

    “The parent is no longer the center of the universe” – you give me pause. I need to spend that time while I’ve got it, don’t I?

    Beautiful post. It brought some tears.

  4. June 17, 2010 6:36 pm

    This is a great description of how it feels to be a dad to teenage girls, Bradley. My three girls are all grown up now (yes I’m MUCH older than you!) and live far away from me (England, Michigan and Oregon while Im in California). But I remember so much of what you describe, and chat often to others still going through it. One thing I’ve discovered is that the teenage years are the ones in which a girl in particular can hurt her dad badly but hasn’t yet figured out he is hurtable. In time that changes, and they (most of them) learn that we’re human too, with real sensitive places. The rewards come. Last week I was in Michigan for my youngest daughter’s wedding – my first real one (though the oldest married with out me there!) – I should blog about the experience I guess. But that was the first time all three girls and my wife and I were together for 12 years. Thursday was also my 60th birthday, and the girls took me out for a lovely dinner, made a fuss of me, decorated, and one had written a beautiful appreciative poem and framed it with a photo of her and me. I cried. She was satisfied.

    • June 19, 2010 2:02 pm

      Graham – That sounds beautiful! Congratulations on the wedding, and the wonderful time with your all-grown-up girls. I would have cried too.

  5. June 18, 2010 3:52 pm

    I have a two year-old daughter and THIS is what I have to look forward to… ;o)

  6. June 19, 2010 1:42 pm

    Color me impressed! You are Dadtastic!

    We know a couple with 4 girls. The dad is a guy’ guy. So, of course I used to tease him that when his daughters all got to “that age”, he would be the one at Sam’s Wholesale Club driving the forklift loaded down with a pallet of feminine products. This is about the time he would put his fingers in his ears and start humming loudly…

    • June 19, 2010 2:04 pm

      Too funny! Love the image of the forklift to accomodate the four girls… Although my two give me a run for my money at CVS between the make up and feminine products and toilet paper and toiletries…

  7. June 19, 2010 1:43 pm

    what a camel. exemplary leader of the herd. iLike. a lot! If I hadn’t already liked you, I would after reading this.

  8. June 19, 2010 2:07 pm

    Thanks for letting me know what I am in for in about 8 years! Wonderful post…. Here’s to a Happy and Blessed Father’s Day with your girls!

  9. June 21, 2010 8:12 pm

    Quite a change of pace as far as subject matter is concerned, but still very thoughtfully and well written. You brought back some great memories. Whatever happens, even though you sense changes, rest assured they will both always be “Daddy’s little girls.” Trust me. When the pretty little girls turn into beautiful, sensitive women and give you at least some of the credit and a lot of love, you’ll discover the truth of what I say. Once I read a line which went something like this; “No success will compensate for failure in the home.” I rather suspect that you hit home runs routinely at home and at work! You have your priorites in good order in my opinion. ~donkimrey

  10. June 17, 2011 2:35 pm

    My favorite picture from my daughter’s wedding is of her dancing with her daddy, both of them laughing and thick as thieves. That is what you have to look forward to, and it will be a beautiful thing.

  11. June 17, 2011 3:34 pm

    If my friend and I spotted you in line at the grocery store with one of your girls, that’s exactly what I would say. 😉

    Seriously….this is beautiful. My little girl is 29 now, a wife and mom, about to move from 90 miles away to across an ocean….I miss her littleness, her growing.

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