Like a once-mighty citadel that, battered by years of wind and rain, starts to crumble — its stone foundations undermined, its cracked and fissured turrets toppling — I feel my paternal authority beginning to slip away.

Against my express wishes, my daughter got her ears pierced.

Oh, Gwyneth had already had them pierced once, back when she was in the fourth grade: a single, tasteful hole in the center of each lobe. Classic. Chaste. But last week she announced she was getting a second piercing, just a little further up the lobe.

I told her that a second piercing was what harlots, grifters and drug addicts do. She pointed out that her mother — My Lovely Wife — has a second set of earlobe holes. I told her not to change the subject.

Gwyneth is 22 and apparently legally able to do what she likes as far as facial jewelry is concerned.

Oh, for the days of her youth, when I ruled the house with an iron fist — although, come to think of it, even then there was a certain amount of slippage when it came to earring edicts.

“You can get your ears pierced when you’re 13,” we told Gwyneth and her younger sister, Beatrice, when they were growing up.

Then the old peer group pressure kicked in, and we caved. Gwyneth got her first earrings when she was 9. Beatrice nagged us so much that she got hers at 8, a capitulation that Gwyneth has never really forgiven us for.

We insisted that they get them pierced at the pediatrician’s. No mall kiosk or back-alley piercer for them. I can still remember Beatrice’s reaction. She is a scaredy-cat at heart, and as Dr. Cohen drew closer with the flesh-puncturing apparatus — its chamber loaded with a gold stud — Beatrice kept pulling away, yelping, “Wait! Wait! Is it going to hurt? Is it going to hurt? Wait!

I wanted to shout: “You want the earrings? You can’t handle the earrings!”

For someone who doesn’t have earrings, I probably spend way too much time thinking about them. They are a window to a woman’s soul, their symbolism evolving with the culture.

My mother doesn’t have pierced ears. Her jewelry box was filled with screw-back earrings. My late mother-in-law never had her ears pierced, either. Back in her day that sort of thing was Just Not Done by respectable women.

By the time I was in high school most girls had pierced ears. When I was in college, boys started to get their ears pierced, something I still don’t really understand, notwithstanding the popularity of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.

And now you can get anything pierced. You can stretch your lobe and insert a bottle top or a poker chip or a hubcap, pierce the cartilage on your ear, get so many cartilage piercings that it looks like a metallic caterpillar is crawling up the rim of your ear.

Pierce your nose, your tongue, your lip, your nipple, your navel, below your navel (if you know what I mean). Link all your piercings together with chains so you’re crisscrossed with metal and clink like a coffee can full of dimes when you walk.

Is that what you want, Gwyneth?

Sorry. I guess I just need to let it go. My daughters are adults. All a father can do is hope that he has prepared his children to make good decisions on their own. Besides, both of my kids go to college in London, far from my controlling hand.

London, where the punks once shaved their heads into mohawks and perforated their faces with safety pins. At least I know what to get Gwyneth for Christmas.

Helping sick children

Have you donated yet to Children’s National, the Washington pediatric hospital that has helped countless kids in our area? Now’s the perfect time. Bill and Joanne Conway have generously offered to match all gifts to The Washington Post Campaign for Children’s National. All donations, up to a total of $150,000, made by Dec. 31 will be matched dollar for dollar. Give $50 and it’s like giving $100, $100 and it’s like $200.

To make your tax-deductible contribution, visit, or send a check (payable to “Children’s National”) to Washington Post Giving Campaign, c/o Children’s Hospital Foundation, 801 Roeder Rd., Suite 650, Silver Spring, MD 20910. Our deadline is Jan. 10.

Your gift today can make a difference in the life of a child.