When my daughter was starting her teen years, my wife and I had many talks with her about dating etiquette.
As a father, I was scared. I remember being a teen boy. I remember my teenage friends. I remember the fear of dating. Fortunately, she made it through this period in her life mostly unharmed, and at twenty-one, has a steady partner. For right now, she is okay.
Today, I have an eleven-year-old son, and I am now beginning the process of parenting a preteen all over. I find myself preparing for the same conversations all over again, but from the other side.
Here are some of the little talks we have had (my daughter and I) or will have (my son and I):
Me to my daughter: If he takes you to dinner and wants to pay, don’t be offended. You don’t have to let him pay if you are uncomfortable; you have your own money. If he does pay, you don’t owe him anything.
Me to my son: If you ask them to dinner, expect to pay, but don’t be offended if they want to pay for their own meal. If you do pay, they do not owe you anything.
Me to my daughter: Dress how you feel. Wear what makes you feel beautiful. If it is summer and hot, and its always hot here in Florida, and you wear something comfortable, that’s okay. Remember, you don’t owe him anything.
Me to my son: What she wears does not say anything about what you are able to do to her, or with her. She dresses to make herself feel beautiful. She does not owe you anything.
Me to my daughter: At any time, if you feel unsafe or uncomfortable, you can leave. You can call me, and I will come get you, no questions asked. You do not have to stay somewhere where you do not want to be. It doesn’t matter how you got there, or where you are, you do not owe him anything.
Me to my son: If at any point, they feel uncomfortable, stop what you are doing, Take them home. If you are at their home – leave. You are learning how to read signals, and they are learning how to give them, and that’s okay. As always, they do not owe you anything.
Me to my daughter: Sex is okay. We have equipped you with all the knowledge and tools that we can. It is your decision to make, but remember, you can never take it back. Protect yourself. Protect yourself. Finally, remember that you do not owe him anything.
Me to my son: When you are ready, and they are ready, and you are ready together, sex is okay. Sex is not okay unless you are both ready. Sex is something that cannot be undone. It is powerful and magic and wonderful, but not until it means something to both of you. Protect yourself. Protect your partner. The consequences of your actions do not just affect you. Most important at this point to remind you – they do not owe you anything.
Me to my daughter: At ANY point, you can change your mind. You do not need a reason or excuse, other than you want to stop. If he doesn’t respect that, what does that say about him, and his respect for you.
Me to my son: At any point, they can change their mind. Respect that. Respect them. Respect yourself.
Me to my daughter: There will be breakups. They will be hard, and you will hurt. You will think that it is your fault, and it may be. You will feel guilty: he will make you feel guilty. Even now, you do not owe him anything.
Me to my son: There will be breakups. They will be hard, and you will hurt. It may be your fault. Do not guilt them into returning. What does this say about your relationship? Is it built on guilt and shame? Do not allow them to coerce you back into a relationship that you no longer want to participate in. That will only prolong the hurt and pain.
Me to my daughter: Your mother and I are here for you, always.
Me to my son: Your mother and I are here for you, always.
I wish, looking back, that my wife and I had had more of these conversations with our daughter, although they had many conversations without me present. Some of these things she figured out on her own. Some she figured out too late. As open as our relationship was, we missed some of these talks. Or some that we had didn’t hit home. Or some went unrepeated.
I also wish more fathers could have these open dialogues with their sons. Perhaps instead of teaching our daughters that they don’t owe men anything, we, as a society, should be teaching our sons not to expect anything.
The 2018 Golden Globe Awards featured many women, most notably Oprah Winfrey, speaking to a new generation of young girls and women about the importance of solidarity and being proactive. Unfortunately, what was missing from the broadcast was any acknowledgment or solidarity from the men. There were no speeches from male winners telling young boys and men how to act, how to grow. Until the men in Hollywood, and elsewhere for that matter (myself included) stand beside our sisters and mothers and daughters and teach our sons how to act appropriately, I fear nothing will change.
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