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Father's choice: Being a progressive dad or protecting 'daddy's little girl'?

“This whole parenting thing? It’s quite like being a teenager again”.

Parenting can sometimes be a surprise punch in the gut.

Just when you think things are working out, that you’ve got the game licked, something comes along and knocks the wind right out of your sails. I can remember sitting in judgment of some parents, thinking to myself, “there is no way I’d let my son/daughter get away with that.” Well, a funny thing happened on my way to the perfect parent award: I did let them.

Sometimes I did so willingly, allowing them to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Occasionally, I did so grudgingly, knowing full well the consequences, but understanding the battle would ultimately be lost. Sometimes, I fought the good fight and lost anyway.

There are always consequences, but unless you’ve been there, you don’t know the pain of watching your child make a mistake with a predictably painful outcome. At some point in this journey, I realised kids, especially teenagers, have a mind of their own. No matter how much you coach, cajole, bribe, forbid or punish, there are some things they’ll just have to learn on their own. And so it was this evening after work.

If you know me, even in passing, you know I’m proud of my daughter and her mature nature. I marvel at her critical thinking skills and how well she thinks around corners. I look at my beautiful 14 year-old and must force myself to see the young lady she is rapidly becoming, despite my resistance.

To say I approve of some of her older friends enthusiastically is not an understatement, it’s an outright lie. However, we must choose our friends on our own and learn from those mistakes. I gut that out with small wins on curfews, chaperones, etc. I’m a progressive father dammit, and I won’t overreact to that kind of thing.

Read more: The 12 parenting truths I’ve learned from this crazy roller-coaster.

It’s fall, and with that we have the joyous return of high school football and the celebrated Friday Night Lights. She wants to watch the game? Sure. No problem. I’m good with that. Hang out with friends? Sweet. Be social, have a blast. I’m prepared for this! Until….”Mom says I have to talk to you about Homecoming.” Wait….What? Huh? Ok….deep breath Shawn. This is easy. “Sure kiddo, what about it?” And that’s when my progressive prepared parenthood feeling took a vacation. I think, perhaps, that part of me is sitting on a beach in Brazil, taking in the sights.

“I’m going with a boy.” BOOM. Sucker punch. I’m pretty sure I swallowed a testicle. Really? A boy? Sure. Fine. She is fourteen after all. Hormones, development, growing up, birds, bees, PENISES. No…not that, no. Think happy thoughts. “Well good hon, is that all?” No. You’ve heard me talk about him. Oh God no. Not him. No. Not him. Please not him.

“Oh really, is it Ronaldo? (That’s not his real name. I’m not going there.) Please not Ronaldo. Almost anyone but Ronaldo. “Yes. That’s him, but we’re going as friends.” Oh, well that’s not too bad. Friends. Ronaldo is 18. He doesn’t want to be friends. Ronaldo has A PENIS. “Ok kiddo, but when he picks you up, he has to come in and meet me.” “Shawn, I’m meeting him there, it isn’t a date. Jeez.” Crisis averted right?

image via tumblr
Your little girl isn’t so little anymore. Image via Tumblr.
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WRONG.

I’m sitting in the truck headed to K-Mart, with my very smelly fresh from volleyball practice daughter. I need to pick up my anti-depressant refill at the pharmacy. Just now, I’m glad I’m getting them. It’s quiet except for the sound of my Rob Zombie station on Pandora playing through the radio. I can’t tell you what song was on, but you get the idea. I’m stewing. Thinking. Happy. Thoughts. Intuition and my own pessimism finally caused my mouth to utter the words, “Well, at least he isn’t your boyfriend.” “Well, mum said I should talk to you about that too.”

Oh no. NO NO NO NO. “Well, I’m not really OK with that.” RONALDO HAS A PENIS. RONALDO’S PENIS IS 18 AND HE WANTS TO USE IT. My head is great for screaming inappropriate things at itself. I’m surprised more of it doesn’t force its way out of my mouth.

Read more: 24 signs you have a teenager in da house.

Timing is everything, and that’s when I parked. My daughter, for her part, volunteered to stay in the truck while I retrieved what would now, at this point, be a lifesaving prescription. I walked into K-Mart with Ronaldo, his 18 year old penis, and my sweet innocent little girl on my mind. The pharmacy tech must have asked me three times why I was there, and I stared somewhat blankly back, unable to formulate an answer. I’m a progressive prepared parent! This should be easy! It’s not. Not by a wide margin. Teenagers, am I right?

In ten years, a four year age gap probably won’t bother me. Now? Now I’m not hungry and my world is ending. Or is it? Practice what you preach, right? If I forbid it from happening, I lose that comfort level with my daughter. Once that’s gone, she can’t tell me anything. Better the devil you know, as the saying goes.

Furthermore, I tell people I trust her to make smart choices. What exactly am I saying to her if my only reply is, “No, I forbid it.” Will it do any good? High school for me may have been close to 20 years ago, but I remember it well. Even the socially maladjusted introvert that I was knew how many people were hiding their dirty little escapades from parents.

Will Smith is close with his daughter Willow.

This whole parenting thing? It’s quite like being a teenager again. I worry, not about math tests or whether Suzy likes me. Instead, I worry about prolonging my daughter’s innocence and her emotional wellbeing. Much like I did then, I sometimes don’t have a clue and I wing it. Now, I listen better to advice, but still sometimes choose to ignore it. Occasionally, you just have to chuck the ball up and hope something good happens.

I guess that’s what I’m doing now. I’m going to talk to my wife tomorrow morning, come up with some ground rules, and let it ride. Ronaldo has a penis, but my daughter is armed with common sense and a good head on her shoulders. She’ll make mistakes, but I need to trust her enough to let her make them.

This article was originally published on The Good Men Project, and has been republished here with full permission.

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