My father died when I was fifteen and among many other more important things, he missed out on the great tradition of hating any of his daughter’s dates. Or scaring them. He never got to stand up from a table, take of his glasses, his jacket and stride over to the hapless and now shaking young man and then reach out his hand for a quick shake. He never had to poke his head into car windows or ask too many questions at the front door. He never got to sit around the table with men that his daughters might end up with at least on a semi-permanent basis. No walking any one down the aisle. No bouncing the grandchildren on his knee. When he died, we were just moving into that dating, developing part of our lives, and my cynical half imagines that the stress of trying to have a boyfriend and a father might have proved too hard for me and my sisters.
The year before he died, my father did meet my freshman year boyfriend Frank and knocked on my bedroom door and told us to go to the den. We hadn’t been doing anything more than making out a little, so I never even got the “Get out of my house” scene. No yelling, no pointed finger, just sort of an embarrassed, “Leave the door open,” and then the, “Go to the den.”
So skulking into the den with Frank--feeling slightly embarrassed--is about the extent of my father’s parental involvement in my dating life. My next boyfriend Brad didn’t have a car, so there was no pickup at the house or curfew to deal with. My father never even met him. We met at parks and movie theatres, and then that spring, my father died. There was only one more boyfriend to deal with in high school, and one senior prom date (I was home by 10). He wouldn’t have worried much.
Who, then, would have thought that my son Julien would end up being my best dating advisor? Who knew that the man waiting home for me at night would be my 18 year old son? In fact, he graduated from dating advisor to relationship consult king. Unlike me, Julien is patient and kind and realistic.
When I started dating, it really didn’t occur to me to not introduce my dates to my son. I know there is some kind of protocol stating that introducing one’s offspring to dates is forbidden or just stupid, a trauma for children of any age. But it seemed ridiculous to lie to him. After all, his father’s girlfriend had all but moved into my former house, hanging up her clothes on my former side of the closet, sleeping on my former side of the bed. It wasn’t as though Julien thought his parents had taken up celibacy along with solitude. But I didn’t want to overdo it until a date turned into a “boyfriend.”
But he was certainly involved in the process. When someone quite interesting (and I use that term loosely) would wink at me on Match.com, I would call him over, boding over some poor man’s terrible comb-over or strangely constructed tagline: “Dying to Meet You,” it would read.
“That date wouldn’t last long,” Julien said.
He would answer the phone, take down numbers, relay messages.
“Dennis called,” he’d say. “And someone named Chris.”
He actually met Chris, holding out his hand and shaking his hand.
“Good to meet you,” Julien said.
When I asked him how he liked Chris, he smiled, and shrugged, but his enthusiasm was about as intense as mine and Chris’. We all knew not much was going on there.
Julien met Joe, the chiropractor, and he met Dave, my official “first” boyfriend since leaving my husband. After Dave and I broke up, Dave called to arrange a time when we could talk. When I came home before 11 pm, Julien sighed with relief. “Thank God!” he said.
I realized then that Dave hadn’t been Julien’ favorite guy. But my son hadn’t told me otherwise, not wanting to hurt my feelings. He’d never thought Dave was out to hurt me, but he just didn’t like him very much.
“He was kind of weird,” Julien admitted. “A strange little fellow.”
Julien is always the voice of reason, saying what is true. Later, after I met and then starting truly dating Michael, I complained about Michael’s youngest daughter Lisel. His oldest daughter Marissa had taken to me sooner than Lisel, though that had likewise been a long hard slog toward knowing each other. Both his daughters were firmly in their mother’s camp (and I get that), and both followed her lead in terms of how the separation should be viewed. Dad was a dick, and should be treated as such.
Also, their mother has a “I don’t introduce my children to dates policy,” and Lisel took that to heart as well, refusing to meet me even after Michael and I had been going out for over a year—no, she wouldn’t agree to having my name even uttered. I decided that it was a sign of weakness. Not hers, but Michael’s.
“He needs to put his foot down,” I said. “She’s dictating when she will see him and with whom. She won’t let him live his life on his terms. He’s following hers.” “You have to see it from his side,” Julien said.
“What possible side is that?” I folded my arms and stared at him. He didn’t flinch.
“The side of not wanting to lose his daughter,” Julien said, his voice soft.
Oh, I thought. That side. I shrugged, knowing he was right.
When Michael was late for about the tenth time, I walked around the apartment fuming. Julien sighed, said slowly, “It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not like he isn’t coming over.”
My son stared at me, trying to convey this one final, crucial thought: It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you, Julien seemed to be saying.
Chill, Mom, he wanted to say.
I sat down, folded my arms, stopped fuming, just a little.
I chilled. Time went on. Eventually, Michael and I had a talk about being late and being calm. Things mellowed. Eventually, Lisel agreed to talk about me. Eventually, she agreed to meet me. Now, we have lunch without Michael and sometimes even talk on the phone. The four of us—Michael, Marissa, Lisel, and I—have vacationed together. Somehow, I managed to see the situation from Michael’s side, and no one lost anything. We all ended up gaining. Julien was right.
Because Julien and I were often alone together, I’ve been able to help him with dating matters myself, in ways that I never thought possible. When I had sons, I thought that all the dating and sexuality talks would be my former spouse’s job. I’d never had brothers, and, after all, that’s what happened on television shows. Dad would sit down with Son in the muted, quiet living room couch and have a heart-to-heart. All those potentially prickly subjects would be taken care of in brisk, careful, succinct male ways. There would be no questions left unasked, unanswered. No loose ends; problems solved.
It wasn’t like that for my boys. Maybe it was my former spouse’s Catholic upbringing, but he didn’t like to do that kind of bodily/emotional messy talk. I had to sit down and explain all the developmental stages, some very embarrassing for both of us. Between my two sons and their very clear and active sexuality, I have had to talk about: yeast infections (not theirs), groin pains, the female experience of love and commitment, the female sexual response, condoms, birth control pills, potential hernia locations. With each of these conversations, I had to force myself to keep my eyes wide open and focused, my voice level and clear. I think I managed to avoid blushing, too, which was a feat I’m not sure I could repeat. My father would be glad to know that my son stepped in, providing that tall, male figure in my life, providing the steady look, the strong handshake, the constant presence. Julien is one of a very few people I will talk to about my relationship with Michael. In fact, Julien often asks me, “How are you two doing? Really, Mom, how’s it going?”
And I’ll tell him.
I don’t know if there will ever be another aisle for me to walk down or if I will want to make that short trip again. But if I do, I know who I might ask to come with me for that first lap, giving me away to give it all another go.
Who knew that my son and I would become the anchor for each other in terms of dating? Who knew that either of us would have to talk to the other about love and sex and happiness?
Who knew how lucky we both are.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
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