My daughter’s Facebook profile said it all: “One of the worst nights of my life.” Her FB friends’ comments in response were sincere, sympathetic, but mundane: “So sorry, Glenny,” “Call me next time,” etc. As her dad, the thing that panged my scarred old heart the most was not so much that, as I perused her public pain, she was sprawled distraught in her bed, unbathed and unfed, an hour before she was due at work. What hurt me was the knowing that there undoubtedly will be a next time.
Glendyn is 18, just graduated from high school. My youngest child is a hybrid of conflicting personas: one is surprisingly mature, calm, thoughtful, talented, and funny, eager to tackle the adventuresome challenges of college and adulthood; the other still dotes on Disney TV, drools over Joe Jonas, and continually takes younger girlfriends under her wing. In short, persona #2 clings to a childlike innocence she realizes is evaporating into irretrievable girlhood. Her father remains torn between the pride of observing his baby grow up, and wishing she didn’t have to.
Glenny’s latest bonded-at-the-hip pal is 16-year-old Haley. As teenaged girls often do, this twosome communicates in its own special language – kind of a robotic, cartoon babytalk that leaps past annoying within mere syllables. Glenny and her lifelong best friend, Alexis, often jabber in Mexican accents. (The potential for political incorrectness is mitigated by Alexis’s Hispanic heritage – and the fact that their repartee is brilliant and hilarious.) The infantile nature of Haley-Glenny-speak, however, falls short in the charm and intelligence departments. Another thing gives me apprehension about this newfound partnering: Haley used to date Glenny’s boyfriend, Austin. When Glenny and Austin first got together, Haley talked a whole buncha jealous smack about my daughter in the high school hallways. Now, to everyone’s surprise (including Glendyn), these recent rivals have befriended one another. Poor Austin, who so far has demonstrated nothing but the sweetest nature, is having a tough time dealing with the bonding of his current crush and his ex.
Austin’s discomfort led to the heartache my poor, vulnerable kid was now suffering. Abruptly, the boy had turned distant to the point of not even returning text messages, voice mails, or commenting on FB posts. He even stood Glenny up for a date — without explanation. Devastated, my daughter became a silent-movie heroine, a helpless victim of her boyfriend’s sudden ambivalence. Certainly, I reasoned, Austin was avoiding Glenny to put off facing the tug-o-war in his own heart. Hey, I’m a guy. I know how overwhelming emotions can be. It can be like standing between the perfume and the make-up counters at Macy’s on Christmas Eve, knowing that you have to find a gift for Grandma and persnickety Aunt Frieda. The world starts spinning; you’re getting dizzy; you have no clue as to what a reasonable next step might be. That’s when your flight instinct takes over. Run! Run! As fast as you can. Escape this treacherous maze. Find the nearest cold beer. Locate a fellow male. Speak in cryptic caveman. Ah, that’s better. “My cousin is coming into town,” Austin explained. “I have to hang with him.” That made perfect sense to me.
What do I say to my heartsick daughter when I’ve got a whole bunch of empathy for the lad who’s givin’ her the runaround? “Guys are just a bunch of scumbag turds,” doesn’t quite cut it — as true as it might be at times. (Human males, in general, are most certainly a lower life form than our female counterparts. But, regardless of our lizard-brain traits, inevitably revealed when more than one of the masculine gender congregate, I refused to initiate the “boys are shit” chant.)
Anyway, here’s basically what I told my red-eyed offspring at dinner last night, as she picked at her plate of tofu, veggies, and rice: “Honey, what you will discover in life is this: the things that make you unhappiest are when somebody else or some circumstance doesn’t live up to your expectations; you know, when somebody acts in a way that isn’t how you hoped they were gonna act. You might as well burst into tears every time it rains, because you have no control over those things. The only thing you have control over is how you respond. You can either be a victim of other people’s choices, or you can try to understand that it’s not about you. It’s about them. You can’t take things so personally. I know it’s really hard not to take it personally when your boyfriend doesn’t call or he doesn’t show up when he said he would. Believe me, I’ve had my share of hurts and disappointments, too. But, maybe he’s just confused and doesn’t know how to deal with it right now. Maybe he’ll come to his senses and it will all turn out fine. Or, maybe it won’t. But, the worst thing you can do is to lock up your heart because you’re afraid it’s gonna get stomped on again. Do you understand what I’m saying? Does that make any sense to you?”
In a nod, Glendyn admitted that I was making sense. I could see that persona #1 got it intellectually, but I suspected that her Disney-girl heart would lag behind for some time. As we continued to talk, my teenaged daughter opened up and shared her feelings candidly. It was one of those memorable moments of closeness, a dad feeling more like a wizened old friend to his own child.
It was nearing 11 p.m. Glenny and her erstwhile boyfriend had been outside, hashing out their issues in Austin’s truck for 90 minutes. “Well, if they’re breaking up,” I said to my wife, Stacey, “it’s taking a really long time.”
Moments later, our pride and joy strode in through the front door. Her spritely gait told us that a massive weight had been lifted. The end of the world as we know it had been averted. An hour-and-a-half, windows-rolled-down, June-night chat had put my daughter back in the driver’s seat. With a sly smile, she reported: “He said he’ll be making this up to me for the rest of his life.”
We’ll see about that. But, at least we all got a good night’s sleep. And, I kinda doubt that Glenny and Haley will be sharing as much baby-robot blabber in the near future.
Rand Bishop, author of the new novel/mock-memoir, Grand Pop: