My daughter went through an experience that I told her was pretty much my whole life during high school. She had multiple projects due, lots of homework, then she had the awful burden of trying to find someone that would go with her to the high school’s Sadie Hawkins dance. She knew who she wanted to take, there was always that little bit of worry that someone else was going to get to him first.
I’ve been brutally honest about how hopeless I was as a kid. I had crushes, I had no self confidence, and that combination is brutally painful to a kid whose body is raging with hormones flooding his head with emotions. I’d dial a phone number to a girl and get through to the 6th number and find my finger hovering over the 7th, trying to will my hand to push the button. Even when I did, I’d often hang up the phone before it would ring through to the girl’s phone. When I could get a girl on the other line and ask her out I’d have used up all my energy getting the date and not know what to do for the date when we got there. As a result, my immaturity and lack of confidence made for a hopeless mess.
I also took a physical toll, which my daughter felt a little of yesterday. I’d get butterflies in my stomach. I’d be fine one minute, then I’d think that I needed to figure out what I wanted to do and end up sick to my stomach. I’d eat two bites of my lunch unable to eat more. I lost weight – lots and lots of weight – because I just couldn’t eat. Where my wife would eat because she was stressed, my daughter and I both go the other direction. We forget to eat. We refuse to do it. It’s like our bodies reject the notion of nutrition in favor of acid reflux and bile for sustenance.
But here’s the difference. Abbi has part of her mother in her. She wasn’t hovering over a number. She wasn’t nervous he’d say no, he was nervous she was too late to ask. That’s the difference. She was worried that someone swept in before her and asked the clueless boy – and he’s a boy, all teenage boys are clueless, it’s not a comment on the kid – before she could put her plan in motion. She had cookies, a sign at the bottom of the plate, all of it cute, funny, and let’s face it . . . successful.
Andrea didn’t have some massive discussion or horrific lengthy analysis of my confidence level. She just didn’t accept it. I had the same experience with her Abbi did in school yesterday. I wasn’t worried that she would say no (though I should have, you’ve seen her picture, right? I mean, look at me – look at her – who got the better end of that deal right?) I was worried someone else would be there before me. There were those who came after I’d already asked her out and we started dating, but she didn’t go out with them. She already saw something in me, something I was only just then beginning to see in myself.
Like I said, there was no analysis. She just blew off my self-ridicule. “Just wear this shirt and these pants,” she’d say. She’d show up when I was getting my haircut and ask me if I wanted to change it. It wasn’t re-making me without my approval, I wanted to change. I just didn’t know how. I asked her out. I took her to dinner. I took her to movies. We went on drives together, we ultimately ended up in a crazy, insane weekend in the California Wine Country that I will never detail in words for you here, but was one of the most brilliant, adventurous, romantic and sexy group of days in my life. She brought my self confidence to the fore, whether I needed it or not.
It’s a nice feeling to see my daughter happy. We’ve had a rough ten months. She’s had just as rough, taking on more responsibility, helping me with her siblings, worrying about college, wondering where to go, what to do, moving to a new school, getting used to the social responsibility of a coed universe . . . and all of that without your Mom there to help you deal with it. I also adjust. A year ago I’d have made the jokes, said I need to buy an unfinished guitar neck and meet the boy at the door and warn him his intentions need to be pure. Now I support her and make sure the boys are sincere and worth her time.
All I can do now is give her, I hope, the tools to know how to read the road ahead. The confidence to understand that it’s better, sometimes, to be alone than to be with the wrong person. To know that, like her Dad, and her Grandparents, it’s better to find someone who loves a woman or man with a sense of humor, a lot of intelligence, and the right amount of panache to be confident with who you are, not what everyone else wants you to be.
I used to think that my refusal to conform, my staunch conviction to what I liked, what I listened to and what I wanted was driving people away, that people thought poorly of me because of it. Only recently did I come to find from some of those same people that they admired me – if only a little – for it and never thought ill of me. What makes me happiest is that Andrea made me realize it didn’t make a difference anyway. I’d found the person who laughed with me and made me laugh. Who had fun, who made me a better man.
Now I have to make sure that I send that same message to four little people looking to me for that inspiration. It’s a tough mantle to carry, but for Andrea’s sake, I’m more than willing to try.