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Dazed and Confused: One Dad on Parenting a Teenage Daughter

Things were simpler in those halcyon days of yore, or so it seemed. There were only about 200 girls in my high school, and that included grades 8 through 12. In that finite pool of dates to pick from, I'm pretty sure about 198 of them weren't all that interested in being "chosen" by a 6'3" guy who weighed 140 pounds and had a head the size of a pumpkin. (For more information on how it worked out with the other two girls, see guns and boxers, previous page.)

But Grace's choices aren't limited by the mere physical boundaries of which town or even which country she grew up in. She's already seen a lot of the world, not all of it good. She's been mugged in Italy, but she's also bicycled across France, and this summer will spend time in Haiti on a Presbyterian mission trip to help build a school for earthquake orphans. Her experiences at the tender age of 17 rival mine at age 49, and that makes my role as an overly protective father (my default setting) a lot tougher. And as the years pass—far too quickly, I might add—she's away from me, both literally and figuratively, more and more.

I try to convince myself that maybe it's all good and that these life lessons will steel her for the road ahead. I sure hope so, because it's hard out there for dads these days. For a man, trying to figure out adolescent girls is more confusing than the continued popularity of The View. In fact, if I wanted to get rich, I'd write a What to Expect When You're Expecting-style guide, only it would be called You Are an Idiot for Buying a Book About Being the Father of a Teenage Daughter Because Nobody Has Any Idea How to Do That.

But as my favorite singer, Lyle Lovett, likes to say, "What would you be if you didn't even try? You have to try." So I do my best to make the smartest decisions regarding Grace from moment to moment. And I hope she'll realize that when I taped splints on her arms and forced her into that Lilliputian cyclops getup for a few years, it was because I loved her. If I've put the patches on the right places since then, she'll march off into the world clear-eyed, confident, and comfortable in her own skin. She'll know that I have her back no matter what, and that if I should embarrass her in front of a guy...well, I'm sorry I'm stupid.

Originally published in the September 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.