A story for you, written in 20 minutes
We drove from my Mom’s house to my Dad’s house. This was my Friday night. Headlights going down the highway in the rust polka-dotted, old geo-prism. My sister wasn’t with us. It was just me and Dad and NPR. I passed the time by road ogling for an hour fifteen.
I think he was trying to bring up a woman’s issue. I was in 8th grade. About to be a real teenager. About to be in High School. He brought up the importance of self-confidence for young women. He didn’t mean me specifically. He meant, young women as he knew them, as the idea ideal. I said, “I have like zero self-confidence.” I’m not sure if I was joking or not. Self-confidence isn’t something someone tells you how to acquire, they just seem to measure. My Dad turned his head from the highway to look at me. He usually spoke to you like he was a recording, and when you were talking he was only on pause. But this time, he seemed to look at me. I knew I’d done something wrong.
From where he drove, I was his little girl. He didn’t get to spend enough time with me. I was just growing up so fast. I seemed happy enough. I talked about my friends. I was good. He had nothing to worry about. I made my grades. Not the grades he wanted, but the grades I worked for. He wasn’t sure about my school. The history teacher seemed to have his facts and opinions too close together. But I’d be fine. Grades don’t matter till high school. I seemed to care.
He must have read a book about this somewhere. Mom told me once he was so nervous about being a Dad he read those books. A good student till the end. A student of black and white in print. And this self-confidence thing, now that was something bad. He had to fix that. That couldn’t go on. Self-confidence was very important for young women. I was a young women. He had read this is important. He must have decided he knew he could improve my confidence.
On the way home, we stopped at the library. I picked out a couple movies. At the checkout counter he said, “these are for you.” He handed me a stack of books. I walked out to the car with them piled in my arms. I read the titles once we were half-way home. They were themed. Improve you self-confidence, how to be a better you, how to love yourself the teenager, find the good inside everyone.
Right then, I think, no I know, I saw my Dad for his faults. First time. How did he not know this wasn’t how to fix me? How did he not know his own daughter well enough to know when he did something to upset her. Worse, when he upset me, why didn’t he care? He never should have told me there was something wrong with me or my confidence. He never should have given me a book. He never should have tried to fix me. I learn through talking. Why didn’t he talk to me instead of past, over, and to my sister? I put those books down. In one of my first acts of teenage rebellion, I never touched those books again. He condemned me with a library card. If he would have said anything to me, I would have been better off.
He scared me. In retrospect, he might have asked those questions, and I probably wouldn’t have answered. I was just nerves. I worried whatever answer I gave might not be the right one, and I’d get a lecture, or he’d raise his voice. So I started not telling him. He couldn’t hurt me that way, if I didn’t tell him something might be wrong. I can’t be fixed if I won’t tell you anything important. So I stuck to safe topics. I learned to have non-issue opinions that would keep him talking. No one could tell me something was wrong with me. I’d be perfect in the middle of the road, normal. You can’t suggest to the perfect.