When my middle child, Hannah, was born, there’s no doubting the fact that she was almost like the son we’d never had. She was persnickety. She hated having her hair braided, bowed, cut, or even tampered with in any way shape or form. Hannah hated being held unless it was by her mother . . . and her mother alone. It’s funny, too, because when she was hurt she’d run straight to me – and I wasn’t the pharmacist or medical expert in the family – only to return to her mother after she felt better. The only thing missing was the proverbial sticking out of her tongue at me to signify that I was good for what was necessary and that’s all.
After her mother passed away just about 2 1/2 years ago, Hannah got a lot closer to me. Don’t get me wrong, as she got older she sat on my lap and hugged me and all that. Still . . . she fought me at every turn. The only times she’d calm down – and I’m not kidding – was when I’d hold her as a baby or toddler and sing Desperado by the Eagles to her. The song and its cadence along with the simplicity, I suppose, just made her relax. She actually liked it so I sang it whenever she was crying or whenever she asked. It was a good opportunity to get closer to her in any way I could.
Today, though, the tomboy returned. I had to take her brothers shopping for suits and ties and everything they needed for a funeral. I needed a new white dress shirt . . . and I asked Hannah what she needed.
“I already have black pants and a blazer but I can’t find my dress shirt,” she informed me.
“You mean blouse?” I corrected her.
“Sure, Dad, my blouse. I don’t know what happened to it. Did you take it, or one of the boys?”
Now the only way I get her clothes is if, by some miracle from above, she puts them in the laundry when they’re actually dirty. (Sometimes when they’re not and she’s “cleaning” her room) Then came the blame that it ended up in the boys’ room. After that, it was just one thing after another.
I found a pretty blouse that made her grouse in the store.
“It had this weird hole in the back,” she informed me.
“You mean it was ripped?”
“No, it had this weird hole, like a circle.”
I stared at her, informing her, as politely as I could, that women’s clothing have things like that. The back would button shut but there’s a little loop that exists that is also like a decoration. Not everything is a comfy old t-shirt.
“Okay,” I informed her, “we’ll get this one, a white blouse that would go well under a black blazer with pants.”
Bear in mind that this is for her grandmother’s funeral and she’s giving a reading at the church.
“Your blazer is a nice one, right? Pants too?” I got the obligatory eye-roll after I said this.
“Yes, Dad, I have nice stuff. The sleeves I usually roll up but I will put them down and it looks nice!” That should have been my first clue.
When we got home I had her try on her outfit. It was too late to go back out, by the way, and after she came out and showed me . . . she was sloppy to say the least.
“You can’t wear that,” I informed her. “That would work for school, or a speech tournament, but not a funeral.” Her blouse was too casual (my fault) and the blazer was like a sweatshirt material. The pants were the only workable item.
“Yeah, I kinda thought so,” she informed me.
“You know, Hannah, you should probably wear a dress.”
Her eyes already narrowed and she started to formulate her redress of her father.
“I know,” I told her, “that it’s not fair. Women should wear what they want, guys wear whatever, whole nine yards, but it’s your grandma’s funeral. You should dress nice.”
“Daaaad!” She said it in her best teenage timbre. “I’m a tomboy, and no offense, but you’re a guy. You’re not Mom or Abbi. You know how hard it is to find a dress with a guy?!”
I stared at her, calmed myself, and then asked: “who helped your sister find her homecoming dress?”
“How long do you remember I was married to your Mom?”
“I started, Hannah, by telling your Mom she looked good in everything. Then the one time I was wrong she never forgave me. From that point on I told her if something looked bad. You’re built almost exactly like your Mom was when she was your age, so I know what stuff looked like on her. I’m not going to make you wear something that looks bad.”
“I know, but . . . ”
“Hannah, I went to the Emmy awards, and you know what? I hate ties and stiff shoes and being uncomfortable, just like you, but I wore a tux. Sometimes it’s good and builds up your confidence if you dress up and look nice. It certainly helped me.”
“Dad, this is a funeral!” She had a point.
“I’m not trying to make you sexy, Hannah. I’m trying to make you presentable for the occasion. I know this sounds weird coming from your Dad, but a basic, pretty, nice black dress is a staple. Not a trendy black dress. Not a sexy black dress. I mean a nice, standard, Audrey Hepburn, “every girl should have a little black dress” black dress. I may not be a fashion designer, but I know what looks nice and I know what will look nice on you!”
She looked at me and resigned herself to the fact that tomorrow after work we’re shopping. Sometimes being the only parent isn’t just victim of others’ stereotypes it’s your own children’s . . . or yours. I don’t pretend to know if something’s amazing, but I know the basics. That’s what she needs: a nice, simple, black dress that she can keep and wear when she needs it.
By the evening’s end she had calmed down. She actually referenced the song up above: Desperado.
“Did you ever play it on the guitar for us,” she asked? I hadn’t. I always had one of them in my arms, her, Abbi, the boys . . . no free arms.
Then Hannah informed me she’d learned it.
“I love that song. I always remember that you sang it to me. So I learned it.”
We spent the rest of the evening on the floor of the office with her showing me and by the night’s end we were singing it together, playing it, and she was the happy, smiling little girl on my lap again.
She’s a tomboy . . . and I’m still her Dad.