By Leonard Bishop
I have a teenage daughter and we are in a generation gap.
At 16 she has outgrown rainbow stickers and unicorns and is obsessed on furs and Ferraris. She is everywhere in the house, all at once, at the very time you want her someplace else.
“Kiersten, let me into the bathroom, I have cramps.”
Her voice lilts through the bolted door, “Sorry, Dad, I’m doing my eyes.”
I stagger upstairs. She is in that bathroom, too.
Then, unexpectedly she will reach out and hug me and coo, “Dad, are you having a good day?” Without her, an exceptional love would be absent in my life. My time would be without luster.
I am a writer and I have no understanding of her. She is a phenomenon, an outer-spacey, a becoming woman, a holding-on child. She adores her mother and is angry for not being exactly like her. She admires her father and estimates him as a loveable grouch. Yesterday, in a steak joint, she became wistful, dreamy. She used a napkin to write an advertisement.
“Wanted: one guy, good looking, with sports car. Christian. Likes dancing, deep talk about clothes. Wears Nikes, cruises uptown, enjoys flirting but is faithful. Muscular but not gross. Intelligent. Sensitive. Compassionate. Not a sexist. Wants children. Hurry, I’m here.”
She crumpled the napkin and shrugged. “They don’t make guys that way any more.”
She is 16 and I do not envy her. If they make young men, now, as they did in my day, I would guard her with a loaded shotgun. “Kiersten, Kiersten, it takes a long time for love to happen suddenly,” I want to tell her. “You have an endless array of tomorrows. You should not hurry a dream. You must caress it. You should not shout to love “I am here.” You must whisper lovingly, “I grow while I wait, I increase while I hope. I will give you all of myself and you will not want more.”
Sixteen years old and sexy as a rose. Blonde and tall and moulded syrup in a bathing suit. Her peer group demands that she ‘put something out’ but she is adamant for her virtue. She won’t beer up or party. She shuns pot, and hard drugs terrify her. She does her homework and reads Dr. Seuss books to her little brother.
At home she eats like a starving wrestler –at a party she’s all manners and ree-feen-ment. I pass her room and she stands at the window watching a remote star. Alone. Forlorn. A melodic sigh, licking a tear leaked onto her lips. “Hold out, Kiersten,” I want to say. “You will meet the young man you desire and he will hold you close and murmur, But to see her was to love her/Love but her, and love forever.”
A pinch of talent for anything becomes an absolutely unchangeable career. At 11 it was ballet until exertion made her sweat. As a concert pianist she would travel throughout Europe –then canceled her tour because she would not cut her fingernails. At 14 she would become a great actress, then realized her braces would distress the hero during a kiss.
She was a cheerleader at 15 and loved the pompoms and short skirts and cavorting. She’s 16 now and wants to be a Child Psychologist. I have hidden my books on werewolf-ism.
She hates other girls who might be lovelier and the guy another girl has is the guy she wants. She protests, “I don’t want a man to love me for my body,” while she primps and arranges her clothes to emphasize her contours. “I want him to love me for my mind,” then is annoyed when her mother starts the fireplace with the comics.
She is uncontrollable energy flung about the house like a riveting machine gone mad. Then she is a doldrum laying on the couch in utter paralysis. She delves into profound meaning with intense curiosity. “Dad, what are guys really like?” She is frivolous, a clutter of titters and giggles. “I’m so happy today.” Four minutes later she is huddled in a corner –a pouting Greek tragedy. “Why must I wear glasses?” She is too old to spank for her infractions and she is too clever to punish. She’ll point at me and shout, “Don’t you dare touch me. I’ll have you booked for child abuse.”
A writer without a teenage daughter is missing a dimension of wonder. The mysteries of life are not held in the outer reaches of unexplored space. They are locked in Kiersten –they are shared with her girlfriends. Teenage daughters cannot be understood through insight or understanding. You can only survive them through unqualified acceptance. The only bridge across the generation gap is love.
(first published September 2, 1984 The Manhattan Mercury)
© Leonard Bishop