To Teenage Daughters, from Fathers

When you bother to speak to us these days, one of your favorite expressions is, “You don’t understand me.” You’re right about that. Fathers don’t understand teenage girls. We were never teenage girls ourselves, but that’s only part of the problem. You see, fathers are men, and while it’s usually bad to make generalizations about a large group of people, I’m going to do it, anyway.

Men, especially men old enough to have teenage daughters, are reluctant to see certain kinds of change. Our own youth is behind us, you see. We may fight against that with beards to hide the double chin, foam to regrow hair on our scalps, and baggy shirts to detract from the paunch, but we know our glory days are behind us. So we focus on what we have. We love our sons, but daughters are the crown jewels of our lives, and we like it when they are small and look at us with wide-eyed adoration. We like it when they run to us, arms wide as they yell “Daddy’s home!” when we return from work. When an afternoon at the park followed by a cherry lime aid makes you say this was the best day ever, we agree that it truly is the best day ever.

Then puberty comes and takes you away from us. In your eyes we become the stupidest type of beast to ever inhale oxygen, approachable only when there is a need for cash or transportation and Mom isn’t available. No longer do you run to us with outstretched arms and eyes filled with joy. Instead we get a blank, contemptuous stare as you stomp past with earbuds blocking out our desperate greeting. There’s no, “I’ll miss you, Daddy” when we drop you off at school. We’re lucky to get a grunt before you slam the door on our wish that you have a good day. We wonder, as the ancient people did, if a demon has possessed our little angel.

And then there’s this new interest in boys. You say this one isn’t like all those boys we warn you about. Well, we were teenage boys once ourselves, and although you might think things have changed, the way teenage boys think really hasn’t changed all that much. But let’s suppose he is a good boy. We’re still not going to like him. Whether he knows it or not, he’s trying to replace us in your life, becoming the most important male in your mind. What you see simply as over protectiveness is a combination of us remembering our own teenage libidos and a fierce desire to remain relevant in your life.

Then you’ll move out of the home we’ve provided for you. You’re off to college, or simply getting out on your own. You drive away, our hearts bouncing and dragging along behind your car like a used-up old soup can.

People even older than us tell us you’ll come back, that someday you’ll remember the stories, the singing in the car, the days at the park, and you’ll love us again in a different way. And so we wait, like cold dogs on a snowy porch, we wait for you to love us again.

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