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My daughter turned 16 last week, and now that the heart murmurs and ulcerous abdominal pains have somewhat subsided, I am prepared to discuss what this actually means to baby daddy.
Nothing will ever prepare you for having a child. No insightful advice, wise recollections, step-by-step “what to expect when you’re expecting” instruction books or Dr. Spock manuals have ever been able to accurately summarize the inherent fear and absolute realization of childrearing—especially for Dad. Mom’s been reading, eating, “showering,” eating, nesting, eating and learning everything there is to know about how to be a round-the-clock caregiver. Clueless Dad, however, doesn’t truly “get it” until he’s on the receiving end of Mommy when Baby emerges, all covered in slime and coughing up colorful fluids from hell. And if that’s not enough to completely place him in shock, right after he cuts the lifeline from Mommy, the placenta is delivered. He’s now comatose.
Now, despite any previous experience a guy’s had in taking care of a pet or a plant—no, let’s just say pet—he has no idea what’s involved in taking care of the humanoid he’s now entrusted with when Mommy is doing other things around the house. He is in fact terrified. However, as soon as the kid is old enough to run around, bump its heads or scrape a knee without the need for emergency amputation, Dad starts to better understand and truly appreciate his new young playmate.
The cool thing about being a dad is that you too are still a kid at heart, so opportunities to engage in stupid, immature activities with your child is not only acceptable, but encouraged. Mom not only enables this behavior, but thinks it’s sweet that father and daughter are riding go-carts, blowing up stuff with fireworks or shoving cheeseburgers and (root)beers down their throats when those very activities just six months prior to Baby’s birth would’ve landed Daddy in the doghouse.
Over the years my daughter’s maturity has likely surpassed my own, as she’s entered adulthood a little faster than I intended. At age 10 she started wearing a little make up. A couple of years later the training bra made its first appearance and then, she started her period. I don’t know which one of us was more mortified at the time—me for purchasing and strategically placing the proper hygiene products in her bathroom or her for realizing that I knew she’d become a woman and had therefore procured the necessary provisions on her behalf to keep at my house. OMG.
As the teen years progressed a little further, I remembered what I was like at her age…and what I was doing…and with whom. That’s when the reality hit. “Sweet 16 and never been kissed?” I don’t think so—no, scratch that—I wanna think so. But who am I kidding? Let’s move on.
Age 16 reveals a rite of passage that is perhaps more important than voting at 18, drinking at 21 or even retiring at 65. For it is at this tender young age that the main principle our forefathers fought for, and on which this country was founded, is realized beyond comprehension—freedom finally rings.
A license is issued by the state enabling teenagers to remove themselves physically from their parents in any direction and at varying speeds as often as they wish. A haven has now been afforded in which to hang out, make out, party out, then pass out. As a parent, the smile of remembering what I did in my car at that age now makes me throw up a little in my mouth at the thought of the same activities occurring in hers.
At least she’s (as Rain Man put it) “an excellent driver”. Just a year ago she was backing out of parking spaces in empty practice lots at 30 miles per hour without looking in the rear-view mirror. Now she’s successfully parallel parking between two cars on a busy street. She knows which red-light cameras work and which are disabled and the sensitivity of them all. She’s memorized the speed limits of the streets she drives and consistently exceeds them by at least 10 miles per hour every time. And, after much conditioning, she’s finally perfected the art of using only one foot to control both the gas and brake.
This doesn’t make it any easier for me to watch her drive away on her own. There’s my little girl, speeding off into the unknown avenues of jackasses who drive too slow in the left lane, suddenly stop in the right lane to let someone out, the tailgaters, road-ragers and Obama-haters. Nowadays, instead of being scared at the thought of becoming a dad, I’m scared at the thought of being a dad. But I’m ever so proud of my sweet 16 (who I’d like to think has never been kissed).