Articles

How to live with a teen-age daughter

Not that he really knows. But at least he's still gam the bewildered prose below will testify

ROBERT THOMAS (POPS) ALLEN August 31 1957
Articles

How to live with a teen-age daughter

Not that he really knows. But at least he's still gam the bewildered prose below will testify

ROBERT THOMAS (POPS) ALLEN August 31 1957

How to live with a teen-age daughter

Not that he really knows. But at least he's still gam the bewildered prose below will testify

ROBERT THOMAS (POPS) ALLEN

Something that bothers me is the glib way TV and movies create human beings, and one of the most off-handed creations in recent years is the teen-age daughter, who is about as close to anything in real life as Roy Rogers is to a cowboy.

The last TV teen-ager I saw was portrayed by a well-gioomed, accomplished young Broadway actress in her mid-twenties, who wore blue jeans, a pony tail, said things like “real cool,” and evidently figured that was close enough to a teen-ager because she just took off from there. At one point she came on screen smiling and telling her mother to rest while she made supper— a little bit of fantasy that even made my daughters blush. I think it's time we got it straight what a teen-age daughter is really like.

A teen-age daughter is something between a child and a young woman in ten petticoats, bare feet and crooked lipstick. Her main drive in life is to wear spike heels and Mv Downfall perfume, dress like a $25.()00-a-year fashion model out of Seventeen magazine, give as much lip as the traffic will bear, stay up till midnight, which she claims every child of normal parents is allowed to do. and to avoid all work, which she claims all normal parents do themselves.

She's never chilly; she's frozen. She's never warm; she's burning. She never dislikes anything; she loathes it—and this sometimes includes her father and mother, who, she thinks, won't face the facts of life.

Right now my eldest daughter is learning how to tear an engine apart in one of her courses at school, and she believes that anyone—me, for instance—who thinks English, decorum and typing would be more useful, is some weird sort of peasant who is dying out, and none too soon.

“What would you do?” she asked me with scorn, “if your car broke down, say, in the middle of the Sahara desert? Just stand there and look at it, I suppose.”

The truth is that's just what I would do. What 1 can't get across to her is that it's just what she'd do. too, except that she would look at it from inside the car. Already she can stand looking at an unmade bed all Saturday morning without even seeing it.

Those TV conversations between a teen-age daughter curled up on the rug and a wise and understanding mother who explains things like how to recognize true love when it comes along I've yet to hear. The conversations in my house arc all about hair and clothes and jobs that my daughters arc trying not to do.

“Why aren’t you at the dishes?”

“I have to do my hair.”

“Why didn't you do it this morning?”

“I had to do my homework this morning.” “You had time to do it last night.”

“I was looking at Gunsmoke last night.”

“You were supposed to be ironing your blouse for the Twirp Dance.”

“It doesn't need ironing.”

“Which one are you going to wear?”

“The one with the blue trim.”

“You'd better press your blue skirt, too.”

“1 have to do my hair.”

“Are you going to let it grow or have it shaped?”

“Em going to have it the same length all

over.”

“You should wash it. It's beginning to look dull.”

"I have to clean my room.’'

"You should have thought of that last Friday.” “My hair wasn't dull last Friday.”

A teen-ager doesn't care about whether she can recognize real love when it comes along, as long as she’s wearing the clothes she wants when it arrives. And she spends about three quarters of her home life fighting for them with her mother, who just wants her to be clean, dressed so that adults won't laugh, and so that she'll be warm on cold days.

I live near the school-bus stop and can watch the teen-agers gathering in the morning, sneering in the direction of their homes, indignantly showing one another the socks, sweaters, coats, mitts, mufflers their mothers made them wear.

“Look what my mother made me wear!” they sav. holding things as if they were at a rummage sale. “You'd think I lived at the NOR I H POLL! While their mothers, judging by what's going on

in mv house, have all collapsed in tears over the breakfast table.

Their daughters all come home at three-thirty on the same bus, waving to their mothers, all on the honor roll for citizenship, co-operation and neatness. Then they make cottage-cheese sandwiches, leave the cheese, bread knife and crumbs where they dropped and walk right out ot their shoes, sweaters and books and leave them in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Anything they walk away from they forget, even things they paid for themselves, and this in spite of a strong sense of property. When they go to parties they all come in clutching their own records, even though they all have the same ones, which they all lose. One of my kids had a party a little while ago and when it broke up, six girls were all going around saying soberly, “Who's got my Hound Dog?”

At midnight I was still finding Houndogs under chairs, along with forgotten shoes, books and handbags, and by the time I found the last one I was so sleepy I looked like an old Elvis Presley myself.

Anything a teen-ager discovers for herself, she adopts violently and usually becomes ashamed of her parents for not having discovered it themselves in all these years. The last thing my daughters discovered wras religion. They w'ent around praying for me and getting me to drive them to church affairs arranged by some indefa-

tigable woman named Mrs. Henshaw, who evidently lives in church basements and either has the most confused mind in the world, or my daughters get everything she says wrong.

“We’re to be at the church tonight at seventhirty,” they say. “You’re to bring some nuts.”

“What kind of nuts?” This is the first I’ve heard of it.

“I don’t know,” they say, from behind a TV guide, “Coconuts, I guess. You’re to bring your old glasses too.”

“My what?”

“Your old glasses. They’re for the needy.”

“Who needs them?"

“Poor people who aren't as privileged as you. We’re to have them there before our rehearsal for The Lonely Tramp. At the church—l think —or somebody’s house. Maybe it’s Mrs. Henshaw’s.”

My wife and I spend some w'eek ends snapping out instructions like cab dispatchers. “I’ll drive them in as soon as I’ve had my bath and pick up the halos for them on the way back so they have them for the pageant at three-thirty unless there’s a meeting of the Junior Citizenship League," I'll yell, trying to catch up to the schedule of one particularly active minister who keeps telling my daughters to ask me if I’ve heard God’s voice lately.

One time when I was writing to a minister friend of mine in Peterborough, I told him about

this and asked for advice on how I could cope with it. He replied that he was glad to hear that my daughters had found a spiritual home, and devoted the rest of the letter to telling me about his new motorboat.

I meet other fathers outside the wrong churches, houses and youth centres, who are as confused as I am. One time a tall thin father parked outside the Sunday school, wearing a ski cap and dozing. He woke up. leaned out and called. “Is this where I was to bring the bagpipes?”

Another father, backing up slowly and leaning out his door said, “I thought they said ‘gas pipes.’ ”

One time I arrived with a car full of props and found nobody around but an old gentleman walking on his heels on the church lawn and muttering. “Angels! Angels! Every blessed one of them!" He was evidently referring to my daughters and their friends who were taking part in the last act of a pageant, which I’d thought was going to take place the next night.

Oddly. I knew what he meant. I've sat on hard Sunday school benches, looking at my daughters by candlelight w'ith tears pouring down my cheeks fifteen minutes after I'd been telling them that I'd written for the procedure for getting them into reform school, which I really don't think is the thing to do with teen-age daughters.

There's only one thing to do with them: wait till they're twenty. ★