Shortly after we discovered our first child would be a girl, I received sage advice from a co-worker. “Just remember,” he said, “little girls are God’s curse on men for being teenagers.” I laughed because I though he was joking. A moment later the laughter died in my throat. My mind raced ahead through the years to a moment when some boy would want to date my little girl.
“You’re clenching your fists.”
“What?” I asked my co-worker.
“You’re clenching your fists.”
“Oh.” I was. I opened them and saw the tiny crescents my nails impressed on my palms. “I was just – ”
“Thinking about yourself as a teenager?” he finished for me.
“Well,” he laughed, “Good luck!”
I walked away and thought about all the uncomfortable moments meeting a girl’s father. It didn’t matter if I was dating their daughter, just liked their daughter, or even just once looked in their daughter’s general direction. Whatever relationship I had with their daughter, they did not want me to have it and I finally understood. Those uncomfortable moments were now lessons on what works.
No dad really wants their daughter to date, but the first time I was actually scared of one was my junior year of high school. I don’t mean ‘wow, I’m really nervous about meeting your dad’ scared, I mean ‘Am I going to make it out of here alive’ scared. I wasn’t dating her (or more precisely, I wasn’t going with her according to the Semantics of Relationship) and it started with a question.
“Hey, could you give me a ride home today?” she asked.
“Where do you live?” As if I was going to turn down an actual girl who wanted to get in my car.
She told me and it wasn’t far from my house, so I said, “Sure.” Again, as if there was another possible outcome.
We didn’t say too much on the ride until we turned on her street. I noticed she seemed about to say something, but held it back.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“Well, mostly nothing.”
“It’s just that . . . my dad . . . well, he can be a little intense.”
“What, is he going to meet me with a shotgun?” I asked.
“Well, he has before.” She wasn’t laughing.
I pulled in her driveway and the middle of a cliché. Her father sat on the porch in a rocking chair with a shotgun in his lap. He stood up as I put the car in park, but kept the shotgun in his right hand. I couldn’t see from my vantage point, but I imagined he had his finger on the trigger. Twitching.
“Um, he knows we’re not dating, right?” I asked.
“No, but it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t like boys in general.”
For some reason, I gave her father a little wave. He didn’t wave back.
“Well, uh, I guess I’ll see you at school tomorrow,” I said to her as I willed her to hasten her exit from my car.
“Yeah,” she sighed, “I guess so.”
I had thought about asking her out before, and probably would have that day but for the presence of firearms. Even though I never heard her father speak, I got his message loud and clear” keep away from my daughter.
A year later I heard a different father use those very words. I was at a lock in for a couple of local churches and the youth minister introduced me to the father of a girl I knew. I stuck out my hand to shake his. He didn’t take it. What he did do was to jab his finger into my stomach and press. Hard. His finger sunk into until it met my spine, or at least it would have were I in possession of one at the moment.
“You keep away from my daughter!” He used a stern, authoritative voice.
“Yes, sir,” I squeaked, but he already walked away.
Years later when I was in college, I found myself helping out at a retreat and the same father was there. I told him how much he scared me when I was in high school.
“How did I do that?” he asked.
I told him the story and when I finished, he laughed. “I don’t even remember that,” he said,” I was probably joking.”
“Really? I’ve been scared of you all these years and you were joking?”
“Wow. I wish I had known that. I might have asked her out.”
His face changed ever so slightly, “Then I wouldn’t have been joking.”
I used to think that both situations (and the other more run of the mill uncomfortable ones) happened because I met a fathers who were overprotective and possibly mentally unstable. Once I had my own little girl, I realized they were upstanding, right-thinking men who probably didn’t go far enough.
Chrisie once asked me how I would handle it when our daughter started dating. She asked because she didn’t realize just how much thought I put in it.
“Well, I’ll probably just park Dad’s backhoe beside the house. Give them something to think about.”
“You can’t do that.”
“You’re right. That’s way too subtle. I’ll dig a hole, say six feet deep, near the house where you can see it from the driveway. I’ll leave the backhoe and the mound of dirt beside it and I won’t comment on it at all when the boy in question shows up.”
“Leighton, that’s -”
“Not enough! You’re right, of course. I’ll dig two holes. I’ll fill the first one in and leave the second open. We’ll get a couple of headstones. We’ll get ‘The Last Boyfriend’ engraved on one and leave the other blank. We’ll put the blank one on the empty hole and let his mind run wild.”
“Honey you can’t do that.”
“Why not? We have access to a backhoe and know someone in the monument business. Hey, I just thought about this, if I really don’t like the guy, I’ll go ahead and get his name engraved on the one for the open grave, I mean hole.”
“This is your plan.”
“You can’t do that. You’ll scare the poor kid.”
“Yes, I will. What do you think I’m trying to do?”
“But word will get around and no one will want to date her.”
“See, now you understand! Just be happy I didn’t go with my first plan.”
“I’m sure I’ll be sorry, but what was your first plan?”
“To kill the first one and leave him on the porch so the others would have to step over his dead body to get to the door.” She looked back at me, well, honestly, how she looks at me a lot. It’s a mixture of pity and bemusement.
“Honey,” she said, “I know you don’t like to think about it, but she will grow up. There’s no stopping it.”
“I know, but I don’t have to like it.”
“Look at it this way, maybe she’ll meet a guy like you.”
I know her intention, but all Chrisie did was terrify me. Why? I remembered being a teen all too well.
In the end, I know she’ll grow up. I know she’ll date. I know some day she will break my heart and marry a man who has hopefully been old-fashioned enough to ask me for her hand (not that it’s mine to give, just that some formalities are helpful to fathers). I imagine he’ll be strong, brave, and worthy of her love.
He’ll have to be. I plan to run all the others off.