Sunday, June 16, 2019

Two life lessons at 14

Parents have a way of teaching you life lessons you don't realize you learned until decades later. My dad taught me two in the same year; the year I turned 14. 

In eighth grade, I was in love with this beautiful tall blonde, Julie. She was 5'11" in eighth grade. I was maybe 5'6". But I found out, amazingly, she was also into me too, not by talking to her; I was way too shy for that. Her best friend told me. Perhaps out of frustration that I wouldn't say anything to her at school, Julie began coming to my church, maybe to give me another shot at sparking something, I don't know. It didn't work. 

One day after youth group, Julie and a couple of my guy friends and I were standing around chatting. Well, they were chatting; I was listening. It's what I did. My dad walked up to take me home. He stood with us for a couple of minutes, then he and I headed out. 

Walking down the sidewalk, he said to me out of the blue, "So...is that your girlfriend?"

My head almost exploded.

I thought for a feverish second that my dad could read minds. I was well into adolescence. I had things in my mind which definitely did not need reading! But I calmed myself. I figured there had to be another explanation. I was noncommittal. I answered as casually as I could, "Why do you ask, Dad?"

He said something I have never forgotten. He said, "The way she was looking at you."

The way she was looking at me?! I was into her and I hadn't noticed she was looking at me in any particular way. Mind blown, because my dad, in my brief 14 years, had never given me any indication, at any point, that he was, in any way, perceptive.

Life lesson number one: 

Dads know.

Later that year, still 14, I started high school. I joined the cross-country team. My dad left work early, a rare treat, to come see me run. Afterwards he was driving me home in his station wagon, my 10-speed thrown in the back. We were coming up on a restaurant we used to go to a lot when I was younger. Betsy Ross. The theme was colonial kitsch, everything red, white and blue. 

Dad asked, "So, do you think you've earned a milk shake? Do you want to stop for a shake?"

I know now, as a father myself, that all he wanted was a little father-son alone time, something which had become very rare. But that never occurred to me at the time. I was a little embarrassed. I was wearing my running uniform, burgundy tank top and burgundy short-shorts. (It was the 1970s.) 

Mentally, I flashed forward to us in the restaurant, sitting at the counter together. I imagined a couple of old ladies at a table watching us, one saying to the other, "Oh look, a father and son out for a milk shake after a sporting event. How adorable."

The last thing I wanted to be at 14 was ADORABLE. I was cool.

So I said something along the lines of "Oh, no, no thanks, Dad, I'm good."

He gave me such a look of incredulity. I had just run two miles! He knew I loved ice cream.  At least I have always hoped it was a look of incredulity, and not one of realization—that I just did not want to be seen with him. 

They say love is the strongest thing a person can feel, but I'll tell you, shame is right up there. After 40+ years, it can still bring tears to my eyes. 

My dad lived to a ripe old age. He lived to 92. But he's been gone for more than a dozen years now. Do you have any idea what I would give to have one more milk shake with that man?

Life lesson number two:

Dads go.

Some of you reading this still have your dad. Call him now. Tell him you want to take him out for a milk shake. Or, if you're lactose intolerant, O.K., a vegan raspberry smoothie. And when he asks "What the hell?" (and he will), just say "George insists."





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