A Parent/Son Moves Into Jello-O Times

A granddaughter has a date.

So I learned, in the fashion of the times, not via phone, letter or in-person chat, but from a Facebook posting. Her announcement ignited gentle kidding and encouraging words from adult females in her extended family.

From the males, though … silence.

Oh, being her grandfather and incorrigibly chatty, I professed astonishment at Anna’s too-rapid, (it seemed to me) maturity to dating, and followed with encouragement of my own.

But that was duty.

Inside, I was addled.

This granddaughter’s current family situation is eerily reminiscent of my older daughter’s situation. Both have three brothers. Two are older but close in age, and one is about the same age.

The older daughter, Theresa, insisted at the time that her “entire social life” had been ruined forever (emphasis, and wailing, were hers) because, while innocently chatting with a male classmate, suddenly loomed the ominous older brother, conveying nonverbally, “I know what you are thinking. Beware. It could be fatal!”

Back in that era, I welcomed the interventions. It was akin to law enforcement being able to call the fire police for backup.

See, we as fathers, and they as older brothers, had been boys ourselves. We wanted nobody infected with our darker impulses anywhere near our daughters or sisters.

Yes, we remember that.

We totally forget, however, that the sensible, competent, clear-eyed adult women who today are the daughters’ mothers had been, in their own time, adolescent girls.

They survived, even blossomed. It does all work out.

But fathers especially are blinded.

From birth, we had been loving provider/protectors, and more often than not, putty in their pudgy little hands. Not for nothing did our older sons, seeking to postpone bedtime and watch TV, send Theresa downstairs to work her wiles on the old man sitting in the living room. The boys would have gotten a curt “Fuggidabouddit!” She, however … well, they stayed up. My wife smirked knowingly.

We love our daughters blindly, intensely.

Sure, we love our sons, too. But that mano-a-boyo (fractured idiom) father-son relationship stands tall, built on strength, performance and ethics.

The father-daughter relationship morphs at puberty into something built on Jell-O.

Picture the same parents at two different events: A wrestling match and a dance recital.

In the gym’s bleachers, they watch their beloved son’s shoulders being bent painfully, inexorably toward the mat because he has been caught in an unescapable hold by a heathen monster (also known as the nice kid from the school down the road).

Tears rim the mother’s eyes. Her fists drive fingernails into palm flesh in blood-drawing intensity. She jerks and twists, emitting soft moans of sympathy/agony.

Dad sits stolidly. Unseen, his hands rip at the bleacher seat edge; he would break it if he could. But losing is a life lesson to be endured. He might rail against it, anger driving his shouts. But he endures, as his son will need to learn to endure.

Now, switch. Dance recital.

Mom is atwitter, lighthearted, swaying to the music, beaming at acquaintances, basking in the glow of her maturing daughter’s budding beauty and talent.

Dad? Dad is … my younger daughter provides an apt word: Sappy.


That nymph, that lass with the lissome gestures and graceful glides … just yesterday, it seems, Dad had to lean sideways to hold her chubby hand as we hurried through a store or hustled toward the waiting car. Her little legs moved twice as fast up and down as they did lengthwise, but she never faltered. Why should she? Dad was there for support. His hand cradling her hand inspired complete trust.

Today, on stage, she reflects glimpses of her own mother’s youth combined with … yes, that smile had come from Dad’s own mother.

But along with the pride, and the tears rimming Guess Who’s eyes, there is estrangement.

Girls growing into women baffle men growing into silverbacks.

Suddenly, we become not the trusted Daddy, but the dreaded enforcer of curfews, screener of telephone calls.

Those boys, the very same friends of her older brothers who used to be welcomed into the yard or house with fake-punch, shoulder-bumping male bonding? Now, we stand with eyes narrowed, arms folded across our chest, speculating. Are they here for the brother? Or for … No! She is too young, and they are boys, and …. humans do not often growl out loud, but Dads frequently do just that, albeit below audible decibel levels.

So, now, a granddaughter has a date.

I sent a text message to the son who is her father: “Life, as you know it, is extinct.”

Text messaging does not permit the denouement: In the end, it works out. Grown daughters are sparkling delights as we fathers become graybeards.

But in between … Ah, those will be interesting times. Weren’t they?

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net.