It’s hard to not embarrass my twelve-year-old daughter. That’s the truth. It’s also, however, a statement with a double meaning.
Most people think this is written as an admission that I don’t know what’s cool anymore. It conjures up mental images of knee-high dress socks and sandals. I understand that perspective and I take no offense to you thinking that about me. Well, maybe a little offense. I take a little offense to you thinking that about me.
Listen. I know what cool is. I’m still pretty cool. I know where the Beef is and I can bust a move to the MTV’s The Grind all day and still make it a Blockbuster Night with a bottle of Jolt Cola. Flip me some Pogs. Trade me some Garbage Pail Kids. Burn me a CD. I’m hip.
It’s not that I don’t understand the things that a kid might find embarrassing. I understand that completely. What I’m saying is that, as a dad, I find it hard to not do those things…even when I am aware of what they are. After all, she’s my baby. She’s my Little Face. I held her in my hands like a tiny book. I can’t even explain how cute she was. Here…let me show you some pictures.
Ugh. I’m doing it again. See? That right there. I know it’s the embarrassing thing to do and, even as I type it out, a voice in my head goes, “Yo. What are you doing, Pops?” I’m not really sure, brain. I can’t help myself. It happens a lot.
I’ll see her sitting there with her friends in my den, talking about Tik Tok or how two popular kids at their school will only “date” if they get 300 likes on their Instagram post, and imagine running over to plop myself down on the floor beside them. I want to put my head in between my hands, lay on my stomach with the my feet dangling in the air, and casually ask, “Hello, fellow kids. Whatha guys talkin’ ‘bout?”
The thought of another adult doing that makes me cringe. A self-unaware father who acts like a kid and tries to wedge himself into his daughter’s too-cool-for-middle-school life is mortifying to think about.
So why the hell am I so drawn to it? Why do I have to physically stop myself from bringing in a plate of pizza bagels and taking a seat in the circle?
I’m not kidding either. She’ll be on Facetime and it takes all the effort in the world not to listen in while offering my opinion on everything. I just want to walk into her room with lame excuses. Sounds awful, right? Even more awful than wanting to do it – actually doing it.
I mean, it’s not my fault. There’s folded laundry that has to be put away. I stroll in casually holding a pile of folded bed shirts, placing them on her desk chair while she giggles away barely noticing I’m there. I whisper-announce my presence.
Hey, Olivia. Bed shirts. I folded your bed shirts.
Psst. Hey. Laundry. Bed shirts.
At this point I’ll get a distracted thumbs up. That’s my cue to go. I slowly do. Then, just feet from the door, I can feel myself turning back around. A voice in my head says, “Keep walking, Dad. Your work here is done. You left the shirts. Now leave the room. She’s busy.”
I don’t. I come up with some stupid thing to say to prolong my time there.
What do you want for dinner? Chicken?
She slowly peers her head up. I pantomime myself eating and bob my head back and forth in a clucking motion.
Chicken? You want chicken for dinner?
At this point, she’s partially confused and mostly annoyed.
Fine. Whatever. Can you go?
Words! I got words. This is my opening.
Yes to chicken? OK! Hey, who are you talking to? Sarah?
Annoyed. She mutes her iPad.
Yes. Can you go now, please?
Want to watch TV with me later?
Fine! Go. Please. Goodbye.
I drop my head like Charlie Brown after a rough day at the pitcher’s mound. I peer over my shoulder to see if she’s watching how down-trodden I am as I trudge off. Most times she’s not. I’m not sure what I’m expecting anyway. It would be insane if she said, “No, Dad. Don’t go. Come sit and talk with us about Roblox.” Yet, I still put on a sad walk-away performance like the closing scenes of the Incredible Hulk.
Sometimes, when she unmutes, I will shout out, “Hi Sarah!” Of course, Sarah says hi back because it’s rude not to. My daughter, however, throws a pillow at me.
This entire situation is probably the most shocking thing I’ve learned as I have morphed into the father of a twelve-year-old. We’re not oblivious to what is socially humiliating. We know, or at least I do. It still makes it hard not to thrust myself into those situations because, as embarrassing as it might be to her, she’ll always be my baby. Watching her talk to her friends about her thoughts and opinions still blows my mind. How can that baby have an opinion about pop culture? She’s a baby! What?!
Yet, there she is. Yesterday, she was a newborn. Today, she’s a kid. Tomorrow, she’ll be an adult. As they grow and start to form their own bonds and relationships, a voice inside your head finds it hard to reconcile where your place truly is. That baby still lives in my mind and, no matter how old she gets, there will still be moments where I marvel over how she can feed herself.
The good news? Dads are allowed to be embarrassing. People assume that we don’t know any better, but we do. We just can’t help it. Don’t tell the kids that, though. We all have to act oblivious or else they’ll get really mad. That’s why I have some knee-high dress socks and sandals, just in case. She’ll never know.