I've been a parent now for, let's see, almost seventeen years.
If the title of "Dad" were a tenured position, I'd probably have attained full professor status by now; if it were a seventeen-year-old Glenlivet single malt Scotch, you'd have to cough up sixteen bucks for the privilege of throwing me down.
Had my experience in the fatherhood realm reflected equal progress within the Church of Scientology, at this point I'd be an Operating Thetan able to process whole track implant materials dealing with dichotomies and binary thinking.
Cruise can do that, you know.
But alas, my storm-weathered status has hardly resulted in many moments of fatherly enlightenment, even after over a decade-and-a-half stuck in the trenches without the benefit of an awesome World-War-I-era flame thrower.
More often than not, I still feel like a rookie.
These daughters of mine—these rosy cheeked cherubs for whom I would chew up my arm and feed it to them should they ever be starving and for some reason without teeth, are at the tops of their games.
As we slowly mature and morph into our adult selves, a porous filter gradually develops upon the territories of our brains which convert thoughts and emotions into spontaneous verbalizations.
For instance, yesterday after I arrived home, I pulled out some athletic shoes I'd just purchased. They're adidas "Stan Smiths," a style I've owned sporadically since junior high.
Upon viewing them, my eleven-year-old, whose filter is still on back order, stated, "Wow, Dad, those look like old man shoes. Where's your metal detector?"
My sixteen-year-old, whose wafer-thin sieve lies wrinkled and askew, yet is able to intercept the large, Tourette-sized chunks, remarked, "Umm, whoa. Those are so white. Those are white white. Those are really white. Do you like these jeans I'm wearing?"
On second thought, I'm not sure her brain actually contains a filter, either. It's more of a narcissistic "me magnet," which routes all external information though a self-glorification call center somewhere in the heartland of her hypothalamus.
My paternal challenge, as it's always been, is to not engage them, to not accept the gauntlets which they've laid before me. I can handle the new shoe comments and other insults, like "Dad, when you smile, so does your forehead," or "Hey, Dad, maybe you should have your testosterone checked."
I can shrug those snarkisms off with a snort or eye roll. What I struggle with is the insubordination, the dogged relentlessness my daughters employ to get their way.
A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I attended a lecture given by author and child psychologist Tony Wolf. Dr. Wolf specializes in teenage behavior and has written, among many others, books entitled, "Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?" and "I'll Be Home Before Midnight and I Won't Get Pregnant."
Dr. Wolf's advice to parents of teens and tweens is simple: Establish your position with your child and get the hell out of Dodge. Kids will badger you and hound you and try their damnedest to wear you down.
For example, your daughter asks to go to Wendy's house, and you say, "No. It's eleven o'clock, it's a school night and anyway, Wendy's still in rehab."
"Why can't I go?"
"I just told you."
"I know, but why?"
And that's when you leave the room, because the child will stay on that gerbil wheel until she's hoarse and it's time to leave for school the next morning.
You see, your youngin' doesn't really care why. She wants to harass you to your breaking point, make you cave and emerge victorious. Reason and logic are not arrows in your quiver, so don't reach for them.
My bride has mastered the art of stating her position and coolly disengaging. I have not. While she is Mount Rushmore, I am yet an ice sculpture...
...which was actually a pretty sweet liger before it melted.