The scariest moment in any dad’s life who happens to have a daughter is the moment boys become a part of the picture.
When my nine-year-old daughter Cindy mentioned to me – quite casually – that she “like-liked” George, a boy in her fourth-grade class, it seemed cute at first, as if she was infatuated with a shelter puppy.
“How long have you felt this way?” I asked, expecting an answer in hours, days – weeks at the most extreme. But she responded with a different measurement system altogether.
“Since I first SAW him…” she exclaimed.
The implication quickly fell on me like a grand piano. To a father’s overprotective eyes, daughters don’t get smitten; they only get bitten. That goes double for a divorced dad like me, who can’t always be around when the wolves come calling.
I flashed back to my own fourth-grade years: Hebrew school, 1977. I was infatuated with a classmate named Gwen Furnace who had long eyebrows and skin the color of cinnamon tea. The fact that her last name wasn’t even vaguely Jewish made her magnetically exotic. When my turn came to choose a science lab partner, I chose Gwen.
Seconds later, one of my pale-fleshed schoolmates, William, shouted, “You just picked her because you LOVE her!”
Reflexively, I reversed my decision and chose Will instead.
Fourth graders don’t understand valor, but they sure know embarrassment. I hate William to this very day.
Cindy’s crush is innocent stuff, I know, but that answer…Since I first SAW him…
I asked Cindy’s twin sister, Miranda, and her tween brother, Charlie, if they knew “this George.” (By instinct, parents attach “this” to the name of any playmate who arouses suspicion.)
I expected them to say he was a nice boy. Who else would my kids hang out with, a fifth-grade dropout?
Instead, they described This George as a kid who “got into trouble sometimes” and was “a little tough.”
A troublemaker? A little tough? So on the Breakfast Club scale, I thought, This George is basically a nine-year-old Judd Nelson. Probably 10.
My ex-wife told me, reassuringly, that she knows This George’s mother. But that means nothing to me. Charlie Sheen has a mother. The Situation has a mother. Ted Cruz has a mother.
I should have seen it coming. During last month’s trip to Medieval Times – an obscenely expensive Renaissance-themed dinner theater – the Green Knight, chiseled like a Harlequin beefcake, kissed a carnation and threw it toward us. When it smacked into Cindy’s green flag and dropped into her hands, her big blue eyes exploded in delight. Cindy clutched the cheap flower as if it contained a secret message. It didn’t matter that a dozen other young damsels caught the same tribute. Even Cindy’s siblings understood this was her moment – an innocent exchange between a sparkly-shirted nine-year-old girl and a middle-aged horseman in tights.
I must admit to being an accomplice in Cindy’s accelerated maturation. I introduced her to Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Selena Gomez. I take her to Justice to try on rhinestone hats and thin-sleeved, leopard-print shirts. And when I bought Cindy her first celebrity magazine recently (not Tiger Beat, but very close) she feasted on every fawning headline.
Cindy’s response – Since I first SAW him – made me rethink, if not regret, my support. I didn’t plan on having to deal with laws of physical attraction until my kids were at least 17 (which is to say, sometime between 100 years from now and never).
In my own 17th year, while at a Chicago journalism camp, I fell for a saucer-eyed girl named Tamara who had a slight Texas twang that reminded me of my Houston home. One night, after I’d talked with Tamara a bit, another boy came up to me and asked for her name and room number. He was a big kid compared to me, and in a moment that sits in my memory like a glow stick, I looked him in the eye – or possibly, the shoes – and said, “She’s mine.”
The story ends there… oh, except for the part where the boy went upstairs, found Tamara, and told her some big-nosed boy claimed she “was his.” I received that news within the hour (this was journalism camp after all), and had to avoid eye contact with Tamara for the next five weeks.
Since I first SAW him…
This George won’t be the guy who breaks Cindy’s heart. He’s just making room in there for the jerk who inevitably will. But what can I do, really? Cindy doesn’t live with me, so I’ll never listen to young suitors lie about their intentions, escort her to concerts to which I’m uninvited, or peek out the front window while someone I don’t know walks her to the front door, enacting a scene from countless chewing gum ads.
I can only savor what little time I have left being the guy to whom she can safely reveal her like-likes. Come to think of it, that’s something.
Photo credit: Flickr/Leo Hidalgo