I'm not quite sure exactly when my teenage daughter first blurted out the words that would revolutionize my method of parenting. I'm pretty sure it wasn't during my talk about how it was too early for her to have a serious relationship with a boy. "You need to be extremely lonely first," I told her. "Possibly even become a recluse for a time--so you can evolve as your own person."
"That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard," was her response.
And I'm positive it wasn't after my shoplifting speech. "It's inevitable. You shoplift. You get caught. You stop. That's the natural progression," I said. "Anything beyond that and we've got a problem."
To which she said: "What if I don't want to shoplift at all?"
Anyway, it wasn't during any of those incidents. It was sometime during my direct period. I've always fancied that I have the knack to cut through bull in a millisecond, to slice right to the heart of things where all the nerves are exposed and there's no way out but the truth. I should use this talent in parenting, I told my wife. This will be my legacy.
It lasted about a day, until my daughter and I were discussing self-confidence and false bravado and she finally huffed and said: "Daddy, blunt honesty has no place in a father-daughter relationship."
But it's what I do, I whined. It's what I'm good at. Oddly enough, the only thing I have in my bag of tricks . . . is honesty.
"I don't care," she said.
I was devastated. Partly because I love her and want her to grow up into a decent, well-rounded and well-grounded young woman, but mostly because I've been thinking a lot about the "My daddy always said" thing.
Every magazine article I read, every CNBC interview I see, someone is always dropping in an extremely profound "My daddy always said" reference. As a father, it's not something I want to be left out of, though being left out seems to be exactly where I'm heading. I have a pretty good ear for a good quote and I know there ain't none coming out of me.
Even with my own father, who was not exactly a wordsmith, I can recall a few choice remarks that have stayed with me. There was: "You may have a lot of acquaintances but you don't have many friends." (Of course, he made me feel like that rule pertained only to me, but that's okay.) At other times, when I'd exhausted all avenues of solving a particular problem, he'd always say, "Why don't you just do what you're supposed to do?"
Good advice, and he gets extra points for putting it in the form of a question. Finally, when the plumbing was clogged up in our house, which seemed to be pretty much all the time, he always said, "Whatever you do, don't flush."
Words not easily forgotten.
God, I want a piece of this "My daddy always said" action.
Once I realized honesty wasn't going to get me there, I started looking in those pint-size books they sell at the grocery checkout with titles like "Advice to My Children From My Deathbed." My plan was to plagiarize some witticisms; move a few commas, change a word here or there to create plausible deniability, then claim them as my own. Then I read some. Stuff like "Don't have sex with someone you couldn't see yourself buying a minivan with." Or "Never send a man to the store for marzipan." What kind of person gives that kind of advice on a deathbed?
I sometimes think I was better off before I decided on the honesty policy. In my rambling, eccentric speeches something might have stuck. In my fondest fantasies I can even hear my daughter telling the microphones, "My daddy always said stupid stuff like, 'It's inevitable. You shoplift. You get caught. You stop. That's the natural progression.' "
Perhaps that's not such a bad way to be recalled. I bet it will get me dropped into more conversations than a lot of those wise-dads. I've noticed that I always have to wait for clogged pipes before I get to use my father's best material.
Besides, when someone says "My daddy always said," isn't it really saying right off the bat that the old guy was constantly repeating himself? Who wants to end up as the bore who beat people into the ground with the same five lame sentences all the time?
Anyway, as my father never said, "You've got to do with what you have." As a father, let's face it, I have nothing. So I've decided to go with that. I'm shutting up. That's how I'll finish off my final years of parenting.
I will be more than pleased if someday my daughter tells her children, "My father always said . . . well, my father didn't say anything."
It's best this way. I'm even beginning to understand why honesty has no place between my daughter and me. It just takes up space. By dropping it, and a bunch of sayings that reflect wisdom I never possessed, I'm that much closer to her.