There’s no-one quite like your teenage son or daughter to put you right about your shortcomings, is there?
I mean if you hate your Daddy you’ve got to let him know, right?
And tell him why and how much.
Who here has not felt the full eyebrow-arching outrage of their teenager’s displaced anger and conviction?
Or wilted in the sulphuric aftermath, indignant and ashamed after responding in kind?
I was purely angry at first, because maybe anger is the easiest emotion to access in the face of such an onslaught
That was me a few weeks back when my teenage daughter and I had a stand-up row in the kitchen.
You don’t need a battleground for a confrontation. Anywhere will do.
This one started amid the dumb pots and plates of the kitchen, ostensibly about things not being as tidy there as they might be.
Let’s just say, K let fly, and I reacted. Badly.
I was purely angry at first, because maybe anger is the easiest emotion to access in the face of such an onslaught.
For both parties.
The rainbow of her anger might be reflections and refractions of joy, angst, sadness, exaltation, omnipotence, isolation and plain old confusion.
Sitting at the wheel of this Ferrari engine beast of a brain, is it any wonder the learner driver often eschews gears and sublety — ‘This is Teenager Brain Control: ambivalence is too complicated, just hit that fury button’.
Now anger might be all the rage in these Trumpian days of division and disenchantment, but my own version is all sound and fury inarticulateness, so galling for one like myself who would take a certain pride in my words.
Why I even live off them, with my work as a newspaper sub-editor!
But, the underlying truth of what she said had indeed steered that teenage arrowhead to the bullseye of my heart
Anyway, after our row, my anger was joined by sadness, mortification, and disillusion.
And the queasy admission that there was truth in what my daughter said about me.
They know how to get to you, kids, don’t they?
Actually, that’s not quite true: I knew even as the battle raged there was well-observed truth steeling the shrapnel that raked my defences — all the better to pierce you with, Daddy! — but to admit so there and then would have felt weak and vacillating.
And besides, her actual words and delivery were so damn rude and disrespectful, right?
But, the underlying truth of what she said had indeed steered that teenage arrowhead to the bullseye of my heart.
What kind of dad was I anyway: laying down the law of respectful discourse, aghast with her liberal use of the F word, while she is flailing and railing in the psychedelic mosh pit of her adolescence?
Ecstatic highs, seismic lows, and the endless in-betweens, with no manual or trusted reference beyond your equally buffeted peers — and wondering whether you should stick with higher level maths!!
Not doing a lot for her there, was I?
So much for her to deal with in these less than halcyon days of online puffing up and tearing down, fitting in and standing out, acceptance and rejection, and the teenager’s mot du jour, stress.
And despite it all, or maybe because of it all, still needing your parents’ love, support, acceptance and attention, and encouragement to make good life decisions — even as you seemingly do your level best to bite off that nurturing hand.
I have been thinking about all this for weeks.
The timing of the attack surprised me more than anything.
We had enjoyed a period of regular enough calm and order.
K is in her transition year in school, and, on the surface, things have been going really well for her.
Yes, she was under some pressure in that she was involved in two different acting projects simultaneously, as well as her usual schoolwork.
And she is prone to conflating things and lashing out from her feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious.
Which we don’t often recognise or respond to, as parents, drawn in by her manifest fury rather than her latent insecurities.
You could hardly think of two more contrasting acting roles: the part of Mary Warren in the local drama group’s production of Arthur Miller’s weighty The Crucible, and then that of a ditzy wisecracking character in her school production, a lovely frothy musical version of Legally Blonde.
Mary Warren — Karron Graves in the 1996 fim version
The Crucible is a fictionalised account of the Salem witch trials in 17th century Massachusetts, and the parallels with the infamous McCarthy era in America, when the play was written.
Mary Warren is a complex character, one of a group of young girls who accuse a number of locals of being witches. In the subsequent trials, she first of all makes her accusation, then tries to take back her original confession, and then under pressure, says her master, John Proctor, had forced her to do so, and he is hanged.
We’ve been to see her in the play, and K was absolutely terrific in a really heavy role, with lots of lines, all beautifully delivered and acted.
A and I were so proud of her, impressed by her talent and her performance, and we so enjoyed seeing her revel in all the positive feedback, especially from all her pals who went along.
You might know the movie version of Legally Blonde, with Reese Witherspoon, the feel-good story of sorority gal Elle Woods, who attempts to win back her ex-boyfriend by getting a law degree?
Well, there’s a musical version too, and it’s on soon in K’s school hall.
But, listen, we parents just have to forget about any notion of balance and fair-play
K is playing the colourful Paulette character, and K just blew myself and A away recently when she sang a number for us in our sitting room, all jazz hands and convincing American razz and pizazz.
So, all was going well, until it wasn’t.
It has taken a while for myself and K to resume normal-like relations, and in fairness to her, she did come to express her remorse, as did I, and we talked things through, if not fully out.
In these situations, there is, for me, always the fear of entrenchment, schism and irreparable harm.
I know enough people who work as therapists and social workers, and have heard many times the tales of fathers and daughters, and fathers and sons, who fell out and who have never really made it up.
Or even became estranged till death.
So I know these relationships don’t always work out happily ever after.
But in the day-to-day exchanges, it can be so frustrating, getting caught up in the crossfire of teenage tirades and my own bludgeoning bluster, and not being able to see the blossoming talents and vivacious spark and character of my fabulous daughter for the smoke of bickering and confrontation.
And behind it all, I know she is doing really well out there in the world of school and friends, and is already somebody.
But, listen, we parents just have to forget about any notion of balance and fair-play.
And toss away those lingering dreams of ever being Daddy Cool.
She will shout at me again. Will shake those lustrous locks in indignation and flash those soulful blue eyes in annoyance, and maybe even snarl her disgust and derision, but all I ask is that it passes off soon, and the damage be containable.
That I respond better.
Take no shit, but don’t give it out either.
And trust that our love be always salvageable and strong.
Then I hear from A what our daughter said to her the other morning on the way to school:
“I do like dad, he just annoys me sometimes”.
I’ll take that for now.
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