The Manner-less Father
The latest 'Father Figuring' column
Image courtesy of Tomacco/Shutterstock.com
Being a widower with three young daughters was scary. Early on, there were challenges that caused me a great deal of anxiety. One was my ability to raise girls who weren’t totally oblivious to typical societal norms. I really wanted them to be poised, to have good manners. So, I sent them to cotillion.
I’m from Fayetteville. We don’t do cotillion there. Although my mother is lovely and has very good manners, she raised a houseful of boys. A win for her was no passing gas during Sunday lunch. Learning to use a bread knife was low on her priority list.
The first year of cotillion was focused on learning the basics. This consisted of students learning a few dance moves (everyone loves a good fox trot), boys getting potato chips for the girls and dressing for success. We learned a great deal through this process. Gloves are a great way to mitigate gross, sweaty hands. Wing tips hurt when they clomp on sandaled toes. Boys are often shorter than girls in fifth grade.
One evening after class, my youngest daughter came home in a huff. “Dad, you’re not going to believe this one! During the slow dance tonight, the boy I was dancing with held onto my underwear the entire song! Like gripped them on either side!” I was amused but unalarmed. “I’m sure he didn’t know — he probably wasn’t wearing any himself.”
Sounds like something my older brother would do.
Years two and three were more focused on manners. One of my kids shared with me that if you go into a building with a revolving door, there’s etiquette on how to proceed through it. Apparently, if the door is not moving, the guy should go first to get the door started. If it is already moving, the woman should go through the door first.
I’m assuming this was designed so that the “weaker” sex wouldn’t have to strain to get the revolving door revolving. That is not the case in my house. My fiancée could pummel most guys. She’s strong. Hot yoga is her thing. She can hold a plank for a solid afternoon. And she has impeccable manners. I’ll not be starting the revolving door for her. She’s more capable than I.
This dad raising three daughters alone left a number of gaps that needed to be filled. There is not a ton of modesty in our house. Mouths are often full when talking. Bathroom doors don’t often shut. Forks, spoons and butter knives are interchangeable. And, most importantly, I’ve taught them to smell their clothing to determine whether it really needs to be washed. I didn’t realize that was questionable until very recently.
But somehow, perhaps through genetics, they have turned out all right. They are strong, attractive, polite and well-mannered young women. Or maybe it was cotillion.
Bruce Ham, who lives in Raleigh, started writing after losing his wife and raising his three daughters on his own. He has written a book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” about their journey, and writes a blog about his family’s experiences at therealfullhouse.wordpress.com.