Last week I was sitting in my office giving some perspective on dating to three of my female students. It sort of ironic, since I was 19 when I had my first date. That was such a disaster it took me four years to have a second. Nevertheless, I’ve read a few books, so Dr. Joe’s thoughts have a long arm.
Throughout our conversation I had this eerie feeling — like something was about to happen. I hadn’t felt that way since my days of debauchery hanging out in Lucy’s Tiger Den in Bangkok.
Suddenly, I got a call from Kaitzer. “Joe, Sabine has something to tell you.”
A million things raced through my mind: Did she heist an armored truck or join the Marines?
“Daddy, I got asked to the Homecoming dance at LCHS and I said yes!”
This was a declarative statement, and the details had already been worked out with her mom. I’m just a driver schlepping kids around town.
I felt as though I was hit by a cross-town bus. I wished she had joined the Marines.
“Dr. Joe, you OK?” asked one of my students.
“Yeah, sure. That was my daughter telling me she’s going to the Homecoming dance with a boy.”
The girl proclaimed, “How sweet! Who’d you expect her to go with, a giraffe?” she said.
The students thought I was being funny when I said, “Why don’t they have his and her dances?” I was serious. There was nothing sweet about Sabine going to a dance with a boy.
I was raised by a mother hardened by the Depression, a father who once visited France through the beaches of Normandy, and shaped by a grandfather wanted for mayhem throughout Sicily. That makes me old school.
Of course, the occurrence of my eldest daughter’s first date is not something I’ve been anticipating. I am stereotypical of the anxious father who has not crossed the gap between the world of “Ozzie and Harriet” and “High School Musical.”
Before I got into this father business, I thought the last frontier was Alaska. However, each day with children is a new frontier.
I remember my first date. I was a sophomore in college. A friend I called Aunt Marty insisted that I attend the Homecoming dance and she fixed me up with her niece. It took a 30-minute bus ride to pick her up, 30 minutes back to campus, 30 minutes to take her home, and since I missed the last bus, two hours to walk back. And that wasn’t the worst of it.
My children are growing so fast I can’t tell them little fibs anymore, like I’ve been to the moon or I’m on a first name basis with Santa Claus. Maybe I should just take them to the taxidermist and have them stuffed.
I think a young girl’s sociability is a secret, weird, ceremonial rite of passage that only a mother understands. Why would Kaitzer then approach Sabine’s first date with such ease? Maybe all those mother-daughter talks did have a purpose.
I realize it’s a parent’s job to prepare for the eventuality of their child’s coming of age. This transition is an assertion of selfhood. Intellectually, I understand the wisdom of journalist and author Hodding Carter in his contention that, “There are only two lasting gifts we can give our children. One is roots and the other wings.” I’m stuck on the roots; Kaitzer is working on the wings. But life’s a dance and you learn as you go.
It is inevitable that children will come of age. Their journey begins with sociability; and within the blink of an eye, they will no longer need their parents for affirmation.
My quixotic nature will never succumb to a rational view of separation. I will fight this hard and in the end, I will lose.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.