It’s the part in The Shining where the two twins hold hands and ask Danny to come play. It always gives me chills. There is an unholy symmetry about it, an unnatural duplication that freaks me out. The childlike voices that foreshadow certain doom, that somehow make two little people into monsters big enough to scare the forty-three old man that I am.
“Punch them in the face!” my daughter says from my right. She’s not wrong.
At twelve, my daughter is changing, and I’m having a hard time adjusting. It’s a weird thing for a father to see his daughter grow up. And it’s not the physical stuff, that’s expected.
It’s the emotional end of the change, the deepening of her thoughts and convictions. One minute she was content to watch My Little Pony on my lap while we discussed if friendship was indeed magic. Then seemingly the next day, she won’t be caught dead in the same room with anything that is for children. Sometimes that means me.
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon, she has just gotten home from school, and we have a good two hours before anyone else shows up. We snuggle on the couch with a blanket, something purple and ratty from her youth, even though the house is warm. And on the TV is The Shining.
“You can’t punch ghosts in the face! It doesn’t work like that!” I tell her. So much to explain; so much to teach.
“You ever punch a ghost in the face?” I ask her.
“Well, there you go. I’m right.”
The movie continues and sometimes she hides her face behind her hands, but the fingers are splayed. I fast forward through the bathtub scene, I’m not a terrible dad. I explain what it means when Jack has a drink with the ghost bartender.
At the end of the movie, as Jack chases his family through the frozen hedge maze, my daughter grips my arm tight enough to leave bruises. This is it, this is my Heaven. The movie ends.
“Another one!” she says.
Yeah, we are watching another one.
Twelve is a tough age. The first year of middle school has become all important. There are pressures on her, thoughts about sticking out too much and thoughts about not sticking out at all. About saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Everything is embarrassing. Even Dad. When I drop her off at school, I’m no longer allowed to play any music on the off chance that someone, somewhere, may hear.
She isn’t as open with me as much anymore. I dig. I pry.
I always will. The answers I get back, though, are one-worded. I go spelunking in her head, exploring any cave that I can find. Places that are hard to get to and my flashlight is running out of batteries.
But my daughter loves scary movies. And until this year, I have denied her the best. Too graphic, too scary, too inappropriate. This year though, I’ve decided that drastic times call for drastic measures. I’m tired of talking in emojis.
The next day we watch Pet Sematary. During the movie, she tells me about her day, about the pressures she faces. For some reason, being scared allows her to confront the things that she is really scared about.
I don’t think she realizes she does this. Maybe seeing monsters onscreen lets her deal with her own imaginary boogymen. She tells me about her friends, about a boy who’s “just ok”, and that she is stressing about a math test.
This is why I’m in Heaven. Kids grow up, we all know this. And for the most part, we never want to stop it.
As fathers, we encourage from the sidelines, tell life lessons in football terms because sports analogies are the only way we know how to communicate. But one of the hardest parts is growing up with them.
Change comes tough for guys like me. Emotions are even tougher. But for a twelve-year-old, I think they are tougher.
“Oh, that kid looks just like Ollie,” my daughter says, pointing out that the kid with the scalpel looks just like her little brother.
“Yeah, he does.”
“Is that why you screamed the other night when he snuck up on you?”
I’m glad she is making that connection. But more important, maybe it’s a good thing that she can see dad as someone who actually is scared. It’s a side that most of us fathers never show. We can’t.
Her emotions are all over the place, both during the movie and in her life. She can be dramatic for what I see as minor reasons. Then I remember that to her, they may not be minor at all. Her laughter though is so genuine and pure at times that it will forever play in my head.
She’s scared. She’s brave. She’s unsure of herself. She is beyond confident.
And she’s trying to learn all of this. I’m trying to help her but dealing with emotions can be very tough. I was raised on “don’t cry, don’t be a sissy, man-up.” But now that I have my own daughter, I think that manning up means to be a sissy and owning it.
Our next movie is the Sixth Sense. Another day, 2:30 in the afternoon again, and she is right where I want her. Next to me on the couch, talking about her day while I ask leading questions.
Gone are the days where she would run home from kindergarten and tell me everything. Now she holds back. I don’t want her too, I want her to let loose and give me everything.
The scary movies give us a way to let her do this. To have this special time, just me and her, where we can be distracted by a jump scare. I’m learning to grow with my daughter and it’s funny because I thought my growing days were over.
The end of the movie comes, the part that we all know is there.
“Wait! What! Is the mom a ghost?” she asks, throwing the blanket off both of us.
“Nope.” My smile is so big that it looks like I’ve got a banana on my face.
“But, but, but…”
Her eyebrows relax, her mouth shoots open in an “O”. She makes the connection.
To see that look of wonderment, of pure surprise. I look the same way but for different reasons. I look that way just because I get to be with her. Because today she talked about the boy again, she told me about one of her friends that she’s worried about, and she said she likes coming home and watching scary movies with me.
Fatherhood is tough, almost as tough as all the growing up a twelve-year-old seems to do overnight. Every time you think you’ve got it down, that you’ve figured out your pattern and can predict the next play, you get hit from some dude on the sidelines that you didn’t even think was in the game. And trying to guide your kid through the emotional turmoil of adolescence sometimes seems impossible.
For me, dealing with those emotions only really occur in the form of a joke. My own version of scary movies that I can hide behind to deal with whatever fears and anxieties I’m dealing with.
So whatever I can use as that vehicle so that she can open up to me, as we used to in Ponyland, then I’m going to utilize it. Even if it’s something that is terrifying on the big screen because it’s nowhere near as scary of what’s in my head if I screw this up. This is the shield she needs, and I’m more than happy giving it to her.
But I’m even happier that this is what she is giving me.
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