From the time my three little girls were born, people have been asking “what are you going to do when they’re all teenagers?” Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect–just like I didn’t know what to expect at any other age. In my experience, most dads are like that: we’re making this stuff up as we go.
But now that I’m here, parenting two teenage girls and one hot-on-their-heels tween, I can at least tell the dads of younger daughters what to expect.
- Expect to feel really old at some point when it suddenly dawns on you that you’re probably closer to having grand kids (15 years from now?) than you are to first having kids of your own (17 years ago). This may make you tempted to go out drinking and/or to buy a sports car. Please refrain from doing both at once.
- Expect to be amazed at how grown up your daughter can be–sometimes in moments when you least expect it. Like when her little sister comes home from school crying one day because a boy on the bus called her a “freak,” and your often surly teen says, without missing a beat, “he’s just jealous because you’re so beautiful.” And just like that, she cures a wound that you would have spent the rest of the day trying unsuccessfully to treat.
- Expect to be frightened by how quickly she can go from pleasant child to raging, insane cretin, based on nothing you can actually understand. It could be something you did or didn’t do. Or not. And you will never know. And the fact that you don’t know makes it oh-so-much worse. What is wrong with you anyway, dad? Also, expect to feel inexplicably grateful when she comes to you later and asks for a hug and cries on your shoulder. Your job is not to comprehend. Your job is just to keep on being there.
- Expect to feel exploited on a more-or-less daily basis, as she repeatedly scoffs at your opinions, your sense of style, and the way you talk, even as she spends your money with reckless abandon. And expect to feel like the wisest man in the world when, every now and then, she runs into a real problem and asks you for advice. And then listens. And then actually says “thanks, dad.”
- Expect to feel lonely sometimes, because the little girl who used to be dazzled by you is now more interested in her friends and her phone and maybe even that boy around the corner. And mostly she probably talks to her mother about it–whatever “it” is–because you will always be a bit of a stranger to them both, even if they continue to love you nonetheless. Expect in these moments that it’s okay to go downstairs and have a beer and watch the game.
- Expect to feel nostalgic when she’s standing there in the blue gown she borrowed too much money to buy, taking pictures with her friends before the prom. You’ll remember how she used to give you hugs around your knees and giggle when you danced her around on your feet. And then she’ll wrinkle her brow and ask “why are you looking at me like that?” And you’ll just shake your head and disappear into the background where no one can see you.
- Expect to feel so full of pride that you have to fight back tears when she brings home straight As or scores a goal in her soccer game or writes a song that has the whole family singing. Expect that, whatever she does and enjoys, it’s okay to take pride in that. In fact, in that, you should go ahead and be her most rabid fan.
In the end, this is probably the best advice I can give to dads of teenage daughters: Don’t expect to understand. But do keep showing up. And cheer like a madman.