Monday, September 23, 2013

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Why Does Thinking About My Daughter’s Teen Years Make Me Think About Murder? (Part II)

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If you have not read "Why Does Thinking About My Daughter’s Teen Years Make Me Think About Murder? (Part I)" you can do so be clicking here

Norah was now sprawled out on the floor, right hand in her mouth, using her thumb and index finger to root around and pluck out the boy monster. Mel gave me a slack jawed look that said, You’re a child. Then she reached in Norah’s mouth with two fingers, made a plucking motion, and said, “I got it.”
Norah let out a sigh of relief, while I grunted with frustration.

Later that night, as I loaded the dishwasher and Mel made some changes to our budget, she brought up the boy monster. She reminded me about how Tristan was kissed by a little girl at the park about two weeks earlier. We were at Silver Falls with some friends. I was getting a few things at the car, when the daughter of one of our friends leaned over a kissed Tristan on the cheek. Then she ran away, squealing. She was a cute little girl with red hair and dimples and about a year younger and three inches taller than Tristan. He is short like me, always the shortest in his class. I imagine she had to lean down to kiss him, and I assume that Tristan wiped the kiss away soon after.
“What did you do when I told you about that?” She said.
I grunted. I didn’t want to respond because I knew just where she was going.
“Oh. You don’t remember? I will tell you. You gave him a high five and called him a stallion.” She stumbled saying stallion and it seemed to give the word emphasis. Which it deserves. “Then you told him that he takes after you.”
Clint and Tristan Mounting a Stallion
“Well... he does,” I said. Mel stretched out her lips into a duck face and tipped her head to the side, something she often does when I try to show false confidence. It seemed to say, You wish. Which I did. I am, in fact, no stallion and I often worried about Tristan’s height once he got older. I only stand five-six and in my youth I was too insecure to date someone taller than me. I had a difficult time finding girls who were shorter and not looking for a taller man. This all feeds into my suspicion that the social norm of “husband should be taller than wife” has inadvertently turned my children into elves. But I digress…
“I don’t understand the difference,” Mel said. “Tristan gets a kiss and it’s no big deal. In fact, you were happy about it. Norah kisses a boy and you freak out.”
Mel was lightly jerking her head side to side like she often did when she knows she’s right. I thought about it for a moment. I tried to defend myself with a bunch of false starts.
“But Tristan is a boy…”
“Norah is a girl…”
“Boys only want…”
But logically, none of my arguments added up. I could tell before I even finished saying them.
I stood next to the sink for a while, Mel staring at me, her eyes a mix of anger, confusion, and curiosity. I tried to make sense of it. I searched deep inside to find a justification for my actions, for my anger about Norah kissing a boy, and my thrill about Tristan getting a kiss. But I couldn’t find any good reason for it. All of my reactions were knee-jerk. I wanted to protect Norah from predators while I was probably turning Tristan into a predator. 
I looked at the ceiling, exhaled, and said, “I don’t understand it ether. I’m kind of a dick.”
Mel smiled and nodded.
“Yup,” she said.
            On Labor Day we went to a park to barbeque with a large group of friends from church. This was two weeks after I told Norah about the boy monster. James, the kissing boy, was there with his parents. He was dressed like Link from the Legend of Zelda: green pants, a green poncho, a long green hat, and holding a white shield in one hand, and a sword in the other. Norah looked at him dreamily, and then the two went to the playground. Together they rode one of those big green plastic seahorses on a large industrial spring.
The girl that kissed Tristan was there too. Her name was Susan. She sat on the lip of the sidewalk, elbows on her knees, face in her palms, and gazed at Tristan on the swing. He was screaming in his high-pitched little boy scream, legs kicking randomly, face red and distorted, a clear display of attention whoredom.
            I didn’t get angry with Norah and I was not proud of Tristan. I just stood there, stared, and accepted the fact that this was happening. I looked at James dressed as Link and wondered what I would think if Norah came home with a teen boy dressed that way. Then I said to myself, “Norah. You could do better.”
            Then I looked at Susan as she gazed at Tristan. I wondered why Tristan was screaming like a high-pitched girl. I wondered what Susan could possibly see in his obviously goofy desire for attention that everyone else probably though was obnoxious. And I thought to myself, “Susan. You could do better.”
            And once again, I was thinking in contradictions. I was seeing men (even my own son) as villains. Perhaps this was the way I was raised to think. Perhaps the media had shown me that men were sex driven maniacs ready to deflower sweet little girls. Or perhaps, and I think is more likely, this was a reflection of myself. Sure I needed to protect my daughter. And I needed to teach my son to be a gentleman. But I didn’t understand any of that as a kid. And I think the reason I didn’t was because my father wasn’t around. So I had to learn about being a man, and what that meant, on my own.
Maybe, just maybe, being an example of a good respectable man will help Norah to know what one looks like. She will know how to spot one, and hopefully fall in love with someone I can feel comfortable with her marrying. And, in turn, my example will teach Tristan how to treat a girl.
 What I really needed to be thinking was, “Clint, you can do better.” I needed to stop worrying about Clint as a hormone crazed teen with little paternal direction, and focus a little more on the respectable father and husband I’d been tyring to become. Then, I needed to find ways to lead my kids by example. Suddenly I had a mix of fear and hope. Fear because I knew, deep in my heart, that I was prone to dumb ass decisions and there was a good possibility that I might inadvertently screw things up. Hope because I had a plan that seemed reasonable.
            Later at the park Norah came and sat next to me on a park bench. She wrapped her soft hands around my forearm and hugged it like she often did.
            “Why aren’t you hanging out with James?” I asked.
            She sighed, looked up at me, and said, “He’s playing swords with his friends. I don’t like that game. It’s stupid. I’m just going to sit by you.”
            I wanted to tell her that loser guys do that. I wanted to warn her. I wanted to tell her about guy code, bros before hoes, that kind of thing, but I didn’t. I just put my arm around her. Then I kissed the top of her head.
 A few moments later, Mel sat on my right side. I put my arm around her, too. I kissed her on the cheek, and said, “I love you.”
            I looked at Norah. She was watching us with a big smile. 

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Clint Edwards is a tutor coordinator at Oregon State University. He is also the former co-host of the Weekly Reader on KMSU and a graduate of the MFA program at Minnesota State University. His writing has been listed as notable by Best American Essays, and has been published in The Baltimore Review, and through The University of North Dakota, Boston College, Emerson College, The University of South Carolina, and Minnesota State University. 


marilee said...

okay, you had me crying at the end. I think you're doing a great job as a Dad and husband.

Clint said...

Marilee: Thanks! That really means a lot. Yesterday I was chatting with Mel. I told her that I think I am a better dad on paper than in real life. She didn't seem to agree with me.

Tyson Sorensen Family said...

Lol, this is the first time I read this and I was seriously laughing! Sorry it took me so long to get around to reading it! Looks great, except maybe a more appealing picture of Link would give him a little more credit. Remember, your talking about the "apple of my eye" here :)

Tyson Sorensen Family said...

And remember, it was she that kissed him ;)

Clint said...

Ha! I am glad that you enjoyed it! I always seem to forget that Norah is often the instigator. Or perhaps it is that I deny it to myself.