So What’s a Dad to Do?

. . . When Princess wants to traipse about the neighborhood dressed as (in Genl Butler’s delightful phrase) “a woman of the town plying her avocation”?

Judging by the subtle clues in the unnamed father’s query, I’m going to suggest that he is . . . From Around Here, as we say.  In which event he may have already missed the boat.  Teaching your daughter that she doesn’t have to marry if she doesn’t want to, that men don’t make her complete, that she is more than the sum of her primary and secondary reproductive attributes &c. &c. &c. is all very well.  But you see, those are water-dripping-on-stone lessons, and they operate, if at all, first on the intellectual level.  They must then seep into Princess’ sense of self sufficiently deeply that she internalizes them, makes them part of her understanding of herself.

Don’t get me wrong:  All this is good.  This father’s life lessons are important for his daughter to wear as armor as she sallies forth to do battle with what remains a world very hostile to the tenderness which (in my limited observations) most women in fact do desire, at some level and at some point in their lives.

But teenagers of either flavor don’t operate on intellectual planes.  They operate at visceral and hormonal levels, and unless you can win that race with your arguments you’re sunk.  Let’s be honest as well about our physiological traits.  Hormones will hear the suggestion that, “I don’t need boys to be a whole person,” or “Girls?  I can take ’em or leave ’em; plenty of time left,” and they scream unto the mountains high: “Bullshit!!”  Guess what gets listened to, the arguments or the hormones?

So how do you get at least within a length of your daughter’s hormones when you’re rounding that last curve into the home stretch?  You start the race with constant instruction about what is tacky and what is not tacky, what trashy and not-trashy. 

Warning:  This requires you to be judgmental and it requires you to raise a child to be judgmental.  But you know what happens to little girls who lack judgmental capacity?  They don’t judge.  At age 17 they bring you home a strapping grandchild of doubtful paternity, got on them by whichever slack-jawed, droopy-pants, pattern-cut-into-his-green-hair, pierced-lip male your daughter failed to judge correctly.  That’s what happens to little girls who don’t learn to be judgmental.

Little boys who lack judgmental capacity tend to end up in jail.

So what’s tacky, or trashy?  Too much make-up.  Too much jewelry.  Too valuable jewelry.  Teenage girls wearing anything other than costume jewelry in the first place.  Hair dye on a teenager.  Unclean.  Too small clothes.  Too few clothes.  Tattoos (any, anywhere, at any age).  Ears pierced more than once per.  Any other body part pierced, visible or not.  Being too interested in money.  Being too interested in boys.  Trying to be something one is not, unless one is trying to be a better person than one is inclined to be by nature.  Being too concerned with one’s popularity.  Being too solicitous of those in authority.  Being insufficiently solicitous of those who are not a threat to one’s own position (even paranoids have real enemies, especially teenaged girls, but being tacky to the buck-toothed, cross-eyed girl whose clothes never seem quite to fit right . . . because you can get away with it? tacky).  Being irreligious (do you really think you deserved to be born pretty, little girl? that all girls were born as pretty as you? that your parents somehow deserve to have a daughter as pretty as you?).  Being too religious (Disraeli line to inculcate: He was asked what was his religion.  “Sensible men are all of the same religion.”  And what was that?  “Sensible men never tell.”).  Having one’s name appear on any personal possession other than one’s driver’s license (i.e., not on one’s license plate or one’s clothing).  Driving an expensive car to high school.  Not being committed to anything beyond oneself.  Denying one’s commitments publicly.  Wearing one’s commitments publicly.

Get the point?  Children can understand “Eeewwwwww!”  They don’t do so well with “You should do/avoid X because . . . .”

So this father, likely living as he does where “tacky” and “trashy” are well understood concepts that are current in everyday discourse, has or had a chance to learn his daughter the differences.  Has he done so?  Did it take?  We can hope.  But I’ll wager he’ll get a lot, a whole lot farther, if he’d present the issue as “trashy is as trashy does, honey, and that’s trashy,” than he will with pointing out, however correctly, the life lessons he describes.  Will either set of lessons work?  We don’t know.  But both sets are necessary equipment for growing up.  In any event, parents of daughters have my fullest sympathy; I was terrified that I’d have daughters.  I haven’t (to borrow from Shakespeare) the stomach to this fight.

Full disclosure:  I have neither teenagers nor daughters, but rather three boys whom I will learn the distinctions between what is and is not tacky, trashy, and common, or die in the effort.

Leave a Reply