Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wings and Feathers

Jason Hawes, one of my favorite TV ghost hunters, posted a note about the angst of fathers of teenage daughters on Facebook today regarding his daughter Hailey.

I had to laugh when I saw this. I remember my father’s reaction to my dating. It was never positive.

Oh, he liked this one guy I dated in college because the guy was older and knew Dad through some engineering classes. The guy worked at the radio station and flirted with me on and off. He wasn’t too tall and looked Dad in the eye when he talked to him. He went so far as to toe the ground with my Dad to ask for my hand in marriage, believe it or not, lovely old-fashioned manners that my parents just ate up. Several weeks passed after that happy moment with no correspondence from him through any means. Finally, I picked up the phone and called him.

“I think we made a mistake,” he said.

“I think we did, too,” I said, relieved.

And that was it. No, harm, no foul. A few speculative shopping trips to jewelers and bridal shops. My grandmother was confused that no wedding ensued from the encounter, but other than that I was good with the whole thing. It made sense that, if I weren’t devastated, I hadn’t really been in love. What I marveled at, though, was the enthusiasm my parents had shown for the guy and his parents in me.

I know it sounds like being left at the altar, but it wasn’t like that. We just called off the game before it became a huge sunk-cost financial and emotional loss. It’s always better to weed out the wrong ones in the interview process. He was a nice guy, just not my guy. I think that’s what he had concluded about me, too. Or, something. It didn’t really matter to me. I wasn’t devastated, period. And this was the guy my parents liked. That was always a mystery to me.

There’s nothing I wanted less than a level-headed romantic relationship. I wanted the kind of thing that made Daddy get out his shotgun and polish it, just because he could sense the attraction. That was a good thing, in my opinion, confirmation that the right chemistry, at least on some level was going on. For all daughters who complain that like Bill Cosby’s comedy routine their fathers insist on “four pairs of long overalls” when they go out, I have to say that most of the time those fathers just want to spare their daughters the sorrow of being very close to someone physically and discarded quickly, broken-hearted. Also, most of the time those fathers just can’t stand what they imagine is going through the prospective beau’s little lizard brain either, recognizing vestiges of their own lizard brains.

They are the King of Wands, the guy who understands impulse and the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. They see themselves in the young man’s lack of impulse control and don’t want their little cupcakes anywhere near the effects of that lack of high mental faculties, consciousness of consequences or even belief that tomorrow follows today. They don’t want their sweetums to get stuck with an idiot that she will have to deal with the rest of her life and therefore they will have to deal with the rest of theirs. This protective, defensive and sometimes hostile reaction to Buffy bringing home Spike to meet the fam is as much a biological imperative as, well, the one that looms as Daddy’s biggest Unthinkable.

Dating isn’t easy. They always talk about those first awkward attempts. I remember attending a dance at 15, spying a young man seated sullenly by himself, piecing together that he must be the older brother of one of my classmates and giving in to my bubbly extravert nature. I walked across the flashing, blaring dance floor and sat down next to him. He had brown hair that fell over his forehead. He had blue-green eyes. He had a few freckles across his nose. He had broad shoulders and scuffed boots. He was already silent and at my presence, looked at me bug-eyed a moment, terrified at a girl who would make the first move presumably, and sat there the rest of the dance. I spoke to him a little. He answered in monosyllables. By the time the dance was over, I figured he hated me or was shocked but I was a little pleased at the freedom of not waiting to be asked. We did not dance, but I’m a lousy dancer anyway, so I didn’t mind. It seemed like a successful venture, but I figured I wouldn’t see the guy again.

The next evening, however, something remarkable occurred. He showed up at our front door unannounced and needed help. It seems he had run out of gasoline and wondered if we could assist him. This ruse worked, although everyone knew the score. It was a safe evening’s adventure, complete with giggling and glancing that passed for advanced flirtation 40-some years ago. Well, then. Apparently I had not offended the diamond in the rough as I feared.

It was a tempestuous relationship that lasted much longer than my parents had hoped and ended abruptly and badly. I think every young person should have such an experience so they know what wrong is, but I don’t regret the experiment. I was left with a stronger sense of self and understanding of human character and a fading few burn marks on my calf from the over-heated exhaust of his rebuilt Benelli motorcycle.

Fast-forward about 25 years and I am no longer a teenager but Daddy is no less the King of Wands. I have brought my beloved soon to become husband home to meet the fam. I may be no Buffy, but John’s no Spike. Nevertheless, The Conversation occurs.

“Wings and feathers,” my feisty little father muses looking off the back deck into the oak canopy.

My husband listens attentively, not quite sure where the conversation is going but with growing understanding of my Dad’s ferocious nature.

“That blue jay,” the Colonel said, nodding toward the dappled afternoon sun through the trees. “That blue jay did not have to tear that titmouse’s nest apart that way.”

John agreed certainly, uncertainly.

“I just got out my shotgun,” Daddy cited the make and model number to impress John who is impressed an altogether different way, perhaps the more important way, “and there was nothing left of that jay but wings and feathers.”

“Would anyone like a drink?” my sweet-natured dear step-mother interrupted before anything else happened.

“Yes,” John said. “Yes, I would.” And we went inside with greater understanding that neither the King of Wands nor his daughter would ever age in this story.

Best wishes!


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  1. Marcia - Great post! The first time my dad asked my mom's parents for permission to take her on a date, my grandfather said "no" and sent him away. My grandfather then bought my mom a rifle, taught her how to use it, and told her, "If that S.O.B. comes around and I'm not home, shoot him." He knew my dad was up to no good!

    My dad waited two years before he was able to receive permission to visit my mom on Sunday afternoons for two hours, and wasn't invited to stay for supper at the end of the visit. It was another two years after that before he as able to take her on a date.

    Obviously, it all worked out, but my dad loved telling the story.

    1. Hi, Marcia - Not sure why it says "Unknown" - but it's me, Anastasia Haysler!

    2. Hi, Stash! Love your story! Maybe blogger wanted you to go incognito to protect your father from your grandfather? =) Persistence pays off!