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The Middle Ages

An inadvertent masterwork turns 31 (or 29)

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Chris Erskine admires the 'inadvertent masterwork' of his 31-year-old daughter
As @erskinetimes sees his daughter turn 31, he's 'relieved to see a wee bit of old-guy wisdom'

She is turning 31 and is full of blarney, with a flash of summer lightning in the eyes.

On the way to her birthday bash, she notes that Santa Monica is a dangerous mix of tourists and locals — too slow and too fast — making driving here pretty frustrating.

"But they bring the money in," she says of the tourists, as if they are her city's lifeblood, as if Santa Monica were a depressed Third World port sleepily awaiting the next cruise ship.

My daughter then asks me if Pabst is acceptable for her bash at the beach, making me secretly proud, for I always feared no one in the family shared my refined tastes. Of course I love an icy Pabst, I tell her. Cool the car with it. Wash my hair.

"Drink American!" I say, assuring her that no-frills Pabst will be fine, before going into a riff on this whole craft-beer movement getting completely out of hand — how most of the brews are pretentious and acrid, with hints of sparkling mop water.

"So now we have designer beer!" I bark, as if there couldn't be anything worse.

"What's next?" she asks. "A Louis Vuitton honey wheat?"

Exactly.

She is 31, and I am relieved to see a wee bit of old-guy wisdom and humor creeping into her everyday observations. Not too much. Nothing too cynical or debilitating. But enough to give us hope for a better tomorrow.

What kills me about my daughter turning 31 is that she lies about it. Jokingly, she claims to be merely 29, as if 31 is too ancient.

That's right: I have reached an age where my daughter lies about how old she is.

Steinbeck has this line — funny guy, Steinbeck — that children never want to be the age they are; they always want to be a little older.

Conversely, adults always want to be a little younger.

So what I'm really getting to is this: For the first time, my daughter seems like a real adult to me.

Not the worst thing, finishing a daughter. Like proudly putting the signature on my first Matisse, an inadvertent masterwork.

She was never daddy's little girl anyway. As a squirmy first-born child, she was independent and fierce and didn't take much to pony rides and pampering.

To think that she is now 31 (or 29) makes me feel vaguely Paleolithic. I was bummed to realize that the old doc who delivered her is probably long gone.

I remember him as a Lee Marvin-type who carried himself with a military dignity and self-assurance, unlike many of today's OB-GYNs, who behave like they're waiting tables at Chuck E. Cheese.

"Order up!" they yell as they hand you your child, then move on to the next party.

I happened to be there when she was born. Back in 1983, there was a certain gravitas to entering the world. Like weddings in India, her birth was part of a long festival, unable to be contained to a single day. My wife, Posh, went into labor on a rainy night in April and delivered the following June.

Thirty-one candles later, that little pink cannonball is still a little squirmy and unable to sit for very long.

At 31, she's not where she thought she'd be — married and making babies. I keep telling her she needs to beware of the standard mileposts: babies by 30, suburban mini-manse by 40, country club by 50.

She needs to shun those knee-jerk conventions and craft her own contented life. When I was her age, I had two kids and a job I detested. At 31, she has a fine job, a circle of genuine friends and seems all kinds of free.

So I think that's really what we're celebrating today, a life unfurling at its own pace. That and the significant health benefits of tequila, barbed epigrams and witty asides.

At a busy beach, we are joined by 25 of her funny friends, one of whom is an Australian chap who is dating a hand model, giving the event a Seinfeldian flavor and four hours of someone to mock besides me.

Trying to be nice, one of her funny friends asks: "So what do you do, Mister Dad?"

Oh, a little of this, a little of that. Nothing important.

"Actually, he's a writer," someone burps.

No. Actually, I'm a painter.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @erskinetimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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