I'm no parenting guru. Ask my daughters. Or my wife. Or the bartenders at Don Cuco.
But as the only man in a house full of women, I've learned a few things that while not necessarily life-changing, may provide scant relief to new fathers, nods of agreement from experienced dads, and a much-needed chuckle to older ones.
No. 1: Know the Fine Line. You found it the first time that playfully wrestling with your wife or girlfriend turned to can't-resist tickling. Her sweet laughter became demon-possessed threats to rip your arms from their sockets and beat you to death with them.
Like sobriety, knowledge of the Fine Line is a hard-won battle fought anew each day. Finding it today doesn't guarantee knowing its location tomorrow. It is a Lego left on the floor of your child's dark room: You know it's there but find it only by stepping on it.
And daughters — like wives — have a Fine Line.
Men are prone to goofy high jinks: tickle monsters, over-squeezing, machine-gun kisses on their sweet cheeks and embarrassing waves at the school gate. But as their giggles rise, whiskers become needles, playful wrestling becomes professional, tickling becomes water-boarding and sarcasm becomes wildly insensitive emotional abuse.
The Fine Line separates the perfectly joyful from abject hatred and is, by definition, not a wide, slow chasm. It is sudden and severe. And when you've crossed that line, it takes time — perhaps bribing — to get back the molecule of trust they had in you before you violated the unwritten rules.
When you find the Fine Line, stay one tickle, joke or gesture on the conservative side of it. If you can.
No. 2: Fix Drippy Faucets, Not Women. Unless it's a spider in the bathtub, a headless Barbie or an overflowing toilet, daughters and wives don't want their men-folk to solve their problems for them. Even if they ask us to.
This one takes time to comprehend. But telling them how to fix something means you think they don't know how to fix it themselves. Despite the fact that by all appearances they really do want your help, they don't. They just want you to listen and be sympathetic.
Tell your 10-year-old daughter how to solve that algebraic formula, and before, “…so ‘x' equals....” leaves your lips, she's torn the paper from your hands and scolded you. “I know! I know! Gosh, Dad! I'm not stupid!”
When she complains that her BFF-of-the-week sat with someone else at lunch, you could tell her that friendships at this age are fickle, and she should find in herself what makes her so special and deserving of respect. But she'll have her iPod headphones on before you can bust out that deeply painful fifth-grade personal analogy you've been saving all these years for this moment.
You're not doing them any favors by fixing it for them. If this isn't making sense, don't worry, you're not crazy. You're a guy.
Which leads me to No. 3: Find Your Thing. Maybe it's working in the garage, playing guitar on the front porch, online virtual combat missions, or whatever else it is you do to escape. Find that thing you enjoy doing in the isolated bubble of yourself to depart briefly from reality.
Especially as your perfect, beautiful, inspiring young ladies get older, you're going to need that place — physically and metaphysically — when estrogen fills the air like fireflies in spring.
Relinquish the house. Give up all those things you've worked so hard for, save one. Maybe it's the garage, game room, garden or tool shed. Claim it. You are going to need a place to go to remind yourself that it is OK to be different from everyone else in your house.
And if you can't find that place on your own property, allow me to introduce you to the hardware store. If you have a local butcher, become his BFF.
For the same reason your wife is an intoxicating, frustrating siren whose allure is enticingly compounded by her mystery, your daughters hold their own mystery.
Maybe the one thing fathers of daughters really need to know is this: You are the one man that all others will be measured against for the rest of their lives. So act accordingly.
Basically, you're toast. And you're the luckiest man in the world.