The Embarrassing Parent
● By Sandy Kauten
“It’s cleaned out and I’ll be putting up some drywall tomorrow,” he said, “unless the commander makes me work that day.” Mr. Smith is a state trooper.
We stood about 15 feet apart and although his conversation was friendly, his demeanor was odd. He wasn’t making eye-contact, yet he was staring at me. The Hawaiian shirt I wore is exquisite, but no one had ever gazed at it so intensely. I drove away wondering why.Then I glanced down at my shirt-front and saw a shiny, gold plastic Junior Detective badge. Police officers had been giving them to kids that morning at Community Day, and I’d pinned one on for a joke. At a distance, it looks real.
Wendy later reported that Mr. Smith had asked her what do I do for a living and do I ever pretend I’m a cop. I showed Wendy my badge and she blushed. “Now Romeo’s dad will think you’re a jerk,” she said. She would have used stronger language, but I pay her $3 a week not to curse. (Don’t judge me.)It was not the first time I’ve embarrassed her.
Whenever I take Wendy to another teenager’s house for a visit, instead of just letting her step out of the car like it’s a taxi cab, I go in with her, demanding amiably, “Where are the old people?” And when a parent appears, I say, “Just wanted to be sure you knew you were having a party. Thanks for hosting.” Wendy hates that, but the parents like it (except for being called “old people” and the thought of hosting an actual teen party).
In hot weather, my inclination is to wear boxer shorts around the house. For comfort and style, you can’t beat ‘em. But I always dress up if I know company is coming. Once a guy-friend of my oldest daughter Marie phoned her and said, “I dropped by today. You weren’t there, so I chatted with your dad. He’s so … informal.”
Marie guessed, “He wasn’t wearing pants, was he?”
My own dad was probably the ideal father for a teenager. If he designed a family crest, it would advise: “Be inconspicuous.”
He never left his room until he was fully dressed, usually in earth-tone tweeds and rubber-soled shoes. (He was a librarian, so he wanted his footfalls to be as silent as moccasins on a game trail.) He never raised his voice, not even when his sons misbehaved. (I could get a kind of low, angry snarl out of him, but only because I was his favorite.) Dad drew the curtains promptly at dusk, as if a crowd of peeping toms lurked in the shrubbery waiting to watch him read the newspaper. His political opinions were kept private. Dad would just as soon put a bumper sticker on his car as he would run shrieking through the Quiet Study Area. He neither wanted to tip his hand nor to be the center of attention. In the receiving line at my stepmother’s funeral, he whispered to me: “I feel like a horse’s a--.”
When my friends came over, he spoke to them just enough to be civil. He did not try to impress them, amuse them or befriend them. I tend to commit all three of those infractions, and to a lesser extent, so does my wife.
Like most kids her age, Wendy wants to appear to be grown up, and even when we behave, her parents are living, talking proof that not so long ago she was a diapered gnome, urping used milk down our backs. She likes to pretend we are only senile servants who’ve been with her too long to fire. She wants us absent; failing that, she wants us invisible; failing that, she wants us silent.
And what do I want? I want my daughter to appreciate me for who I am. Failing that, I want our cat to stop shedding, walk on his hind legs, and maybe do some light housework.
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