Health & Development
The Dad Next Door: Daddy’s Not-So-Little Girl
I have a friend named Dennis who loves to tell the uncomfortable truth. I was at a party once when he loudly proclaimed his disappointment at the way his 13-year-old daughter was starting to change.
“I thought we had a deal: I was Daddy, and she was my little girl. Then she grows boobs. What the #@$%&*!!?”
When little girls grow up, their dads get a little crazy. It’s unfortunate, but not unexpected.
For a dozen years or so, our daughters offer us a blissful, uncomplicated bond that brings out the best in us. There’s none of that messy compromise that holds together our marriages, or the boyhood baggage we project onto our sons. It’s simple: We adore them, and they adore us. No questions asked.
Then suddenly, everything changes. You wake up one morning and your little girl’s been replaced by a stranger.
Wearing inappropriate clothing.
With a bad case of PMS.
And suddenly, the only easy, uncomplicated relationship in your life disappears. Your favorite show has just been cancelled. Stay tuned for “Attack of the Teenage Drama Queen.”
Of course, it’s not fair to blame your daughter. She didn’t ask for a hormonal roller coaster ride any more than you did. But Mother Nature has a plan – and she’s a mad scientist.
She floods your little girl with hormones that are closely related to anabolic steroids. You know this, because they do the same thing to her emotions that HGH did to Barry Bonds. And guess what? You’re a rookie pitcher. Don’t give her anything good to hit – she’ll go yard on you.
I can’t even count the times I’ve accidentally made my daughter cry. We’ll be talking about something completely harmless, and all of a sudden her eyes turn red and she rushes out of the room. A riptide of emotion grabs her and pulls her under, and all I can do is stand on the beach and stare at the waves.
I think that’s why dads freak out when their daughters grow up – it frightens us. We love them more than ever, but we don’t understand them. And when someone close to you starts acting in mysterious, unfathomable ways, it’s hard to stay calm.
Of course, teenagers have a solution for all this: Stop trying to be so close to them. As a matter of fact, just give them the car keys and leave them the hell alone. But we shouldn’t take that personally. Scientists have discovered that, during adolescence, an area of the brain once reserved for treating fathers like gods goes through major renovation. If you look at it under the microscope, you see a big sign posted: “CAUTION – UNDER CONSTRUCTION. EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS NOW WRONG.”
Sometimes we wish we could leave them alone. But we can’t, and we know it. The more they push us away, the more we try to protect them. That’s because we know the demons that wait for them out there. We <i>were</i> those demons, once. We were adolescent boys.
When my daughter got her first official boyfriend, memories of my teenage libido came back to haunt me. I tried to change her curfew to 5 p.m. I searched on eBay for chastity belts. I bought an AK-47 and kept it by the door.
Okay, not really. But I wanted to. And the first time she brought him home for dinner, I went all Spanish Inquisition on him. I asked him every intimidating question I could think of. My daughter says I acted like an idiot. She has a point.
But things have quieted down since then. Boyfriends have come and gone, and my daughter is becoming the smart, accomplished, nonpregnant young woman I always hoped she would be. She doesn’t adore me, but she’s learning how to tolerate me, and that’s a start.
I think there’s hope for us. I imagine a time, not long from now, when I can love her without trying to protect her, and she can love me back without pushing me away. But before that can happen, I’ve got work to do. I have to let go of that little girl I adored so much, and make room for the woman she’s trying to become.
In the meantime, my younger daughter is only twelve, and I’m enjoying it for all it’s worth. She still thinks I’m a god – or at least an amazingly wise and powerful being. But lately, I’ve noticed a change. She’s starting to push back a little when I ask her to do something. She steps away from me when her friends are around. It’s subtle, but it’s there – like a shift in the wind, or a low rumble in a cloudless sky.
It’s time, I think, to get ready for the storm.
Jeff Lee bites his tongue and hands over the car keys in Seattle, Wash.
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I have a friend named Dennis who loves to tell the uncomfortable truth. I was at a party once when he loudly proclaimed his disappointment at the way his 13-year-old daughter was starting to change. “I thought we had a deal: I was Daddy, and she was my little girl.…
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