44: My Unfair Father

44: My Unfair Father

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

My Unfair Father

Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever
to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

~Elizabeth Stone

“I don’t care what time the dance ends,” my dad said. “You’re leaving at 9:00.” And that’s how it was for every dance I attended in middle and high school. The music began to blare at 7:00 and I would dance to “Electric Slide” and other hits of my era until the hour of doom chimed.

At one particular event, a St. Patrick’s Day dance, I knew the dreaded hour was approaching and I headed for cover. I walked to the farthest, darkest corner of the room, behind the green and white streamers, and hung out there until the very last moment. “Melissa, I think your dad is here,” my friend David chuckled.

“Really?” I asked. “I haven’t seen him.” Then I trotted to another corner of the room and continued dancing to Debbie Gibson’s “Out of the Blue.” In the middle of the song, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I whirled around and there he was. “It’s time to go,” my dad said. And that was it. No argument. No discussion. We left.

Those were really tough years for me. It’s hard enough fitting in with your friends when you are allowed to do what the crowd is doing. But it’s even more difficult when you are the girl who is always the first one to leave a function. And sometimes, I was the one who didn’t get to go at all.

That was the case in seventh grade, when all of my friends would walk around town in the afternoons. They would go to Pino’s for pizza or play pool and eat hot dogs at a local gas station. I asked my dad if I could go but I’m not sure why I bothered. It was always the same answer. “You are not crossing that busy highway in the middle of the afternoon,” he would say. “It’s just not safe.”

So each afternoon, my friends waved to me as they ventured off to have some fun on the town. I waved back and climbed into the front seat of my parents’ Chevrolet, and went home.

Most kids receive an increase in privileges as they become older. For me, it seemed like each year there was even less that I was allowed to do. This was especially true when it came to my physical appearance. All of the girls in my class were getting their ears pierced and I desperately wanted mine pierced as well.

“God didn’t intend for us to put additional holes in our bodies,” my dad rationalized. “Besides, why do you want metal in your ears anyway? Do you want to attract lightning?”

I don’t know why I wanted pierced ears so badly. Maybe I never really wanted them. I just didn’t want to be the only one without them. And I didn’t want to be the last girl in my class to wear eye make-up either. But I was.

“If all of your friends were jumping off a bridge, would you want to do that too?” my dad echoed. I’m not sure exactly how many times I was asked that question. But if it were a song, it would have been the soundtrack of my teenage years.

Of course I wanted to do what the other kids were doing. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to know what they were laughing about during homeroom. I wanted to understand the one-liners that were tossed around the table at lunchtime. I wanted people to write funny “remember when” stories in my yearbook. I wanted to belong. But that was difficult when I wasn’t allowed to do anything they were doing.

I also wasn’t permitted to watch a lot of the TV shows that my friends watched. “Did you see The Real World last night?” Megan asked.

“I don’t have MTV,” I replied.

“What do you mean you don’t have MTV? You have cable, don’t you?”

I did have cable and I did have MTV. I just didn’t realize it until several years later when my friend Kevin simply punched in the number nineteen on the remote control. My dad had only removed it from the main menu because he knew that I used the arrow keys. And when I did, the channels went from eighteen to twenty. No channel nineteen — no MTV.

Add to the list the fact that I couldn’t watch PG-13 movies; my dad said the PG stood for “Public Garbage.” And that I couldn’t buy cassette tapes with “Explicit Language” warning labels. And add the fact that I wasn’t allowed to have a phone or a television in my bedroom. What does that equal? A completely unfair existence.

When my friends were out walking along the railroad tracks, eating pizza on the other side of Highway 460, or watching Beavis & Butt-head on MTV, I was in my bedroom. I was busy writing poetry and essays about how mean my parents were (especially my dad), how unfair my life was, and how they couldn’t possibly love me or they would let me do what I wanted to do.

A teenage girl is incapable of understanding that a father’s chief desire is to keep his child safe and that he isn’t just being “mean” and “unfair.” I was not that insightful and I didn’t know that my dad was only trying to keep me a little girl as long as he could. He didn’t want me to grow up too fast. I thought he didn’t want me to have any fun.

Some of the most important lessons that we learn in life don’t occur in the classroom. Sometimes decades pass before our lives begin to make sense. And for me, it was a lot like piercing my ears and wearing make-up; I had to “wait until I was older” to understand how much my dad really loves me.

Today, it’s easy to remember the things I wasn’t allowed to do. I don’t have trouble recalling the times when I was unhappy. They stand out in my mind because there weren’t very many of them. There were quite a few times when my dad didn’t give in to what I wanted. But he always gave me what I needed.

~Melissa Face

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