Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Dads and Dating
An excerpt from Just Another Number
As a little girl, I assumed that dating was in my future. The thought of my earliest courting sessions both excited me and frightened me with the anticipation of how Carl would handle it. Whether it was in television, movies, friends, or relatives, everything I knew about the way fathers handed their daughters off to the care of another man was an embarrassing process of the dad evaluating, interrogating, and subtly threatening new suitors.
“What’s yer name, son?” I imagined Dad asking, throwing a scrutinizing glare in the face of an awkward teenage boy who was fighting an internal battle of hiding his skittishness behind good manners and a firm handshake.
“How old are ya?” Dad would continue. “Do ya have a job? What’s yer family do? What are yer plans for yer future? What are yer plans with ma daughter?”
After ordering the boy to have his precious little girl home by 10 pm sharp, Dad would grudgingly release him, then spend the evening pacing by the front window and looking at his watch every twenty minutes until his daughter’s safe return.
In southern society, a father was nauseated and infuriated at the idea of his daughter being sexually appealing to any man. A father resented her boyfriends until they earned his respect. A father’s daughter was a princess who deserved nothing less than a prince. It was socially acceptable for a southern father to spend his daughter’s prom night on his front porch with his rifle. But Carl never adopted that behavior.
Shortly after my first dramatic anorexia weight drop at age twelve, men started telling me that I was pretty. I was 4’10”, seventy pounds from starvation, wearing a kids size ten denim shorts. I was blonde and tan from a summer of boating with Carl when I started to sense the mild flirtation and lingering eyes from his red, country-accented, forty-something marina companions after a few shots of Jack and a six-pack of Bud Light.
“Ah, fur one, don’t care if ya go out with sum guy,” Carl told me when I asked him if I could go out on my first date at age fifteen. “But yer mother’s oudda town, so have ‘em come in and shake ma hand real quick, just so she don’t give me shit when she finds out.”
Mom established dating rules. I had to be sixteen to have a boyfriend and I was not allowed in my room alone with him unless my door was wide open. But when she was gone, I had free rein. Although I loved my vacations from adolescence, a part of me was always waiting for the dad to come out of Carl. But when Carl encountered my statutory courtship with Number 1, he passed him a joint. When police called my parents after finding Number 3 and I drugged out and camped in his Blazer by the highway, he bitched about getting woken up in the middle of the night and later joked about meeting my boyfriend in Hamilton County handcuffs. And when my parents drunk dialed me in California, Carl chuckled along when his best friend slurred that he’d always wanted to “fuck me sideways.”