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Dazed and Confused: One Dad on Parenting a Teenage Daughter

Even worse, I started remembering what it's like to be a teenage boy. Growing up in the hills of western Virginia, I was that clean-cut kid who said "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am" and got good grades—just the type, I figured, that any man would want to date his daughter. Boy, was I wrong. Savvy, ornery dads saw me coming a mile away. I was a smarmy, hillbilly Eddie Haskell looking for love in all the wrong places—that is, with their little angels. One met me at the back door with a shotgun when I brought his daughter home an hour after curfew. Another brandished an even scarier weapon: Fruit of the Looms. Wearing nothing but his underwear when I arrived, he summoned me inside, then laid down the law from his recliner—do not touch, do not kiss, do not pass go. I was so freaked that the evening went exactly according to plan—his, not mine.

Well, now that Grace is a tall, beautiful, and strong-willed teenager, I understand the protective instinct that drove these dads. And I'd really like to use their lessons to indoctrinate a new generation of boys in how to behave—or not to behave—around her. But even an army of boxer-shorted gun nuts would have a rough time with fatherhood now. That's especially true in my case, since Grace's mom and I split up several years ago, and her mother does the lion's share of the day-to-day parenting. I'm not around all the time to literally guard the door.

And even if I were, that idea is sort of ridiculously passé in 2010 America. The concept of a "date," as people of my generation would think of it, is long gone. Kids are more likely to just hook up in groups and add and subtract from the pod via texting as the night goes along. Tech has made it possible for them to know exactly where their friends are at all times. When I was growing up, my buddies knew if I was out with a girl too, but for a different reason: I had to call my dates on a party line, and my neighbors could listen in. (For you city slickers, in a lot of rural areas several homes still share the same phone line.) But in today's world, all that teen chatter usually flies under the parental radar. And even if I do happen to be around when Grace is on Facebook, she immediately switches to French, which she understands but I do not. It's enough to make a dad shout, "Sacre bleu!" If only I knew what that meant.