I was camping with an old friend. John was about 7 years older than me. He had 5 kids, and most of the evening we talked about his oldest daughter, Jessica.
“The thing is,” John said, “she’s a really pretty girl. She’s tall with dark brown hair. She has a real nice figure. But she doesn’t think she’s pretty, so any boy that gives her any attention, she’s all over it. We’ve had trouble with boys going too far. We’ve had to get the cops and the principal involved. Then she flipped out and started calling the cops on us saying we were abusive. It’s a mess.”
He went on, telling me one story after another about his oldest. How she calls him stupid. Call’s him a jerk. Slams doors and throws things, and all I could think about was my oldest daughter. Not that any of what John said sounded shocking or unexpected for a teen. I’d heard a million horror stories. I’d seen it played out on TV and movies. Before I had kids, I watched RV staring Robin Williams. In the opening scene it shows Williams as a father reading his young daughter a story. The little girl declares her love for her father, and says she doesn’t want to live with anyone else. Then it flashes to a scene of her as a teen telling her father that she hates him. I laughed watching it. Now, after chatting with John, and thinking about my own daughter, it seems very scary and real.
I have two daughters. Aspen is one, and Norah is five. Aspen’s too young to gage just how she might be as a teen. Norah, on the other hand, is five going on sixteen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the hell out of that little girl. I love the way she smiles. I love when she dances down the hall singing “Let It Go.” I love when she runs to the end of the driveway in her pink Disney Princess night gown, her hair messy from sleep and asks me to give her one more hug and kiss before I leave for work. She’s my little girl. But at the same time, she can be a little shit.
She’s really nice when she want’s something, candy for example. Or screen time. She knows how to bat her eyes, give me a kiss, and then ask for this or that. And you know what, it works a lot of the time. She casts a spell on me. But the moment I say “no”, she turns. Her little foot stomps, and her lips turn down, and she says things like, “You’re a mean daddy! I’m never, ever, going to talk to you ever again!” And you know what, it hurts. Every time it hurts. But it’s still a little girl reaching for an insult. It’s still a little cute. It’s not a teen saying it with conviction.
I know that the teen years are coming. I always have. When friends with teenagers see Norah act like a little turd, they say things like, “You are in for it” or “Watch out for that one.” But there was something about chatting with another dad. A good friend. Someone I trust and respect. Hearing his side of it. Knowing all the people involved that really scared the crap out of me. I’d known Jessica for a few years. I hadn’t seen her for a little while, but the last time I did, she was respectful and timid. She didn’t seem at all like a trouble to her parents. What I’m trying to say here is, Jessica didn’t seem all that different from Norah, and the fact that she’d started being so difficult to her parents really made me realize what might be in store for me.
That night, I lay awake in my tent, listening to the rain, and thinking about Norah. I wondered if she’d ever call the cops on me simply because I didn’t let her hang out with a boy. I thought about the teen I used to be. How I thought a lot about sex, and very little about love or commitment. I thought about how I, ironically, would never let my teen daughter date someone like the teen I was. And yet, I knew Norah would someday bring home a date I didn’t approve of. How would I stop her? Would I have the power to stop her?
I knew that I wouldn’t.
I went home from camping the next morning. Norah was watching TV in the living room. I sat next to her. She gave me a hug and I told her I missed her.
“I missed you too, Daddy,” She said.
“Are you going to stay sweet and wonderful and love me forever?” I asked. “You will never hate me, or act out, or anything like that, will you?”
Norah thought about my question for a moment. She twisted her lips to the side. Then she said. “Nope!”
I didn’t believe her.
But I suppose I didn’t need to. I didn’t really know what was going to happen when she was a teen. Perhaps she will turn. Perhaps she will hate me. I don’t know, but what I do know is that as she snuggled up against me on the sofa, I felt nothing but love for her. I couldn’t see how that could change, regardless of how she acted as a teen. It felt like she’d been planting a seed as a little girl. She was making me fall madly in love with her so that when she turned into a teenage, boy crazy, hormonal mess, I’d have something to keep me going. Something that I could hold onto.
“Good,” I said. “I love you, sweet heart.”
“I love you too, Daddy.”
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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.