A Dad Reflects on Dating Dilemmas

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Photo courtesy of the Ham family
Bruce Ham knows how to manage the teen dating scene, thanks to fathering three teen girls.

Several years ago my oldest daughter, Bailey, who was in high school at the time, came into the house around 11 p.m. and announced, “Dad, you’re not going to believe what happened!”

Her enthusiasm peaked my interest. “What?”

“Well, Sam called me and — OMG — when she got home tonight her mom was mugging with her boyfriend in the driveway! Gross! Why would old people do that?”

Sam was Bailey’s friend from school. Sam’s mother had been a widow for quite some time. Apparently, mugging is making out. I, too, lost my wife eight years ago, so I said, “Go, Sam’s mom!” I had to explain to my kid that, although we had crested 40, we still liked to kiss, eat solid foods and go to the bathroom independently — all the regular stuff she likes to do.

She scrunched up her nose and said, “Ooooh.”

I actually have three daughters. Two are in high school and the oldest is now in college. My daughters’ high school consists of an all-girl student body. It limits their dating options.

Bailey’s junior year brought her first real boyfriend, Donald. I referred to him as The Donald (these were pre-Trump presidency days). After they declared their intent to date exclusively, my “dadar” (dad radar) went up. I was no longer content with The Donald doing a drive-by to pick her up.

“No more tooting the horn and you leaping out the front door,” I told her. “The Donald needs to walk his butt inside this house, look me in the eye and shake my hand. Yeah — that’s what The Donald is going to do.”

I found it interesting that the week before, a toot-and-scoot was acceptable to me. Suddenly I needed to see his eyes and let him feel the grip of my hand. You can tell a lot about a guy in those two gestures.

Although I got pushback, The Donald parked and entered our house the following Friday night. His demeanor told me he was uneasy. That made me happy. I strived with all my might to nonverbally convey two things to this obviously inexperienced young man:

1. My daughter had better be happy when she gets home.

2. Touch her and you die.

Their connection harkened me back to my first girlfriend, Carolanne. It was eighth grade and we would meet at her house, walk through the woods to the park and “mug” like Sam’s mom. Later, I learned that her little brother and sister hid behind trees and watched us. She didn’t have a father, and her mother was not very intimidating. It was fun! I didn’t want my daughter to have that experience. She could have fun playing volleyball or something.

It’s interesting how our perspectives on things evolve through the years — and how we, as parents, work to shield our kids from some of the exact same things we did. It’s also interesting how our kids have a totally different set of standards for us than they have for themselves.

The Donald didn’t last very long. A fairly amicable breakup occurred at the local Moe’s Southwest Grill just a month or so after our first handshake. And although he was the one whose heart was broken, I don’t think he minded all that much. I believe he was more fit for a girl with a less attentive father.

Bruce Ham, who lives in Raleigh, started writing after losing his wife and raising his three daughters on his own eight years ago. He has written a book, “Laughter, Tears and Braids,” about their journey, and writes a blog about his family's experience at therealfullhouse.wordpress.com.


Categories: Dads, Family, Parenting, Relationships