From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul IV

When the World Stopped Turning

Asking your father about dating is always difficult, especially if you are the son of a strict, religious Filipino immigrant. In fact, bringing up any subject always seemed to be arduous for me. However, dating the opposite sex was not only a topic that was rarely mentioned in my homestead, but it almost appeared strictly taboo. Thus, dating while in high school was not allowed for any of my siblings, and I was certain that my father would not change the rule for me. Even though he had no qualms about grounding his children for disobedience, it was the sheer disappointment from him that we feared the most.

Although any child would normally be deterred by punishment from a stern father, something made me pick up the telephone. With two weeks left in my senior year of high school, that something made me ask out the most beautiful girl in my school.

My father was raised with a strong moral code. Determined to raise his children with the same values, he pushed us to academically achieve as well as respect his rules. He always felt that romantic relationships were strictly adult in nature, and children were not mature enough to cope with or understand them. Moreover, he felt that children who prematurely participated in romance got nothing in return but distraction from their education, precocious mental stress and, most important, unplanned pregnancies.

We respected that opinion. Well, at least we respected it outwardly. Inwardly, we thought he was ruining our adolescent years. Like all other teenagers, we felt the urge to pursue the opposite sex. However, due to my father’s quiet sternness and seemingly immobile moral code, none of us children ever had the audacity to ask otherwise.

It was his quiet stance on the matter, as well as my squeamish nature that brought me to the tough current situation. Here I was, on the phone, asking out the most beautiful girl in the school. Not only was I not sure that my father would even let me go, but I wasn’t sure how I’d manage borrowing his car for the occasion. With the exception of my older sisters going to an occasional dance or hanging out with a male friend, my situation would be wholly different. To remedy this awkward scenario, my only hope was that this girl would turn me down!

Unfortunately, she accepted my offer. I couldn’t believe it! While celebrating my unimaginable joy for having a date with the prettiest girl in the entire school, a sudden eruption of reality caused it to skid to a halting stop. Through my elation, I had completely forgotten about my parent’s restrictions. How was I to tell my father about a date? How was I to tell my father I needed his car?

I went to my mother with a cry for help. Being the more sympathetic of my two parents, she was actually proud of my accomplishment. For her, the problem seemed simple to solve: we would not tell my father. In my house, the world appeared to turn regardless of my father’s participation or foreknowledge. Being a devoted physician, he was constantly consumed by work and study. He was often quiet and reserved. Going out on a date and merely not mentioning it would be an easy task to pull off. Although this idea was a little immoral, it certainly wasn’t unconventional. My mother had occasionally concealed a bad grade or a speeding ticket from my father. I knew for a fact that the secrecy of my “date” was safe with my mother. Problem solved.

Despite being excited about the plan, I was very concerned about the car situation. My mother drove a minivan, the most uncool vehicle a teenager could drive. My father, however, drove a Toyota Camry. Now mind you, it wasn’t a Corvette, but it certainly didn’t have a sliding door. The only problem was sneaking the Camry out of the garage. My mother had a solution for that as well. She asked my father if I could borrow the car for a “night out with my friends.” He agreed. With both problems apparently behind me, I now could concentrate all of my superpowers on perfecting every other angle of the date. Remember, she was the prettiest girl in the school.

All week long I prepared for that Friday night. The movie plans were set. Dinner reservations were arranged. I even had the perfect mix tape for the drive. It was all going as planned.

Friday night arrived quickly. All my anticipation had built up like an orchestra warming up for a concert. Every instrument was in tune, with every musician waiting in symphony. After reviewing my final plans for the night, I went to the garage to stash a dress jacket in the trunk of my father’s Camry. As I opened the garage door, my heart came to an abrupt stop. Every muscle in my body went tight, and my stomach wound up like a clenched fist. My eyes began to glisten with tears as I noticed an unnerving absence in my father’s parking spot. The Camry was gone. My father had to have taken it. My brother had already taken the minivan. With no cars left, my heart was broken.

I ran inside and quickly sought out my mother. As fearful as I looked, my mother looked worse. Unaware that my father had taken the car out, she seemed at a loss for words. My father had apparently forgotten about my little “night out with my friends.” There was no telling when he would return. For once, the world seemed to stop turning without my father.

With time chasing me to the finish line, my father arrived home. Of all times, he had chosen to take the car for a stupid car wash. Upon pulling into the garage, I stood impatiently at the door. I tried my hardest to not look nervous, though the sweat on my brow was close to revealing my secret plan. In no apparent rush at all, my father appeared as calm as ever as he proceeded to clean the inside of the car as well! Steam poured out of my ears. My time was up, and I was about to explode!

I ran back into the house and asked my mother for help. “Remember Mom, don’t say anything about the date,” I pleaded. She calmly walked out into the garage and spoke with my father. As she walked back into the house, a smile stretched across her face. She told me there was no other option but to tell my father the truth.

“What?!” I screamed in agony. “What did you say?”

“I told him that you need the car for a date tonight,” she answered calmly.

“And?” I anxiously prodded.

My mother smiled. “He said, ‘I know. Why else do you think I’m cleaning it out?’”

* * *

Although my family often presumed that my father was oblivious to the random speeding ticket or sporadic bad school grade, he apparently possessed a sort of omniscience that ultimately made us all look foolish. To this day, we still do not know how my father found out about the date.

Michael Punsalan

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