The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Through all the changes in my life, one constant that’s been omnipresent is my lack of coolness. Hard as it may be for you kind readers to believe, this columnist who’s wearing a “Star Wars” T-shirt as he writes this and whose crowning achievement is going undefeated in Scattergories has never exactly been part of the “in” crowd.
But that all changed July 17, 2007. After Penny’s birth, at least one person, I figured, was guaranteed to consider me the coolest person in existence. That was the case, too. Penny has waited up past midnight before insisting to see me before going to bed, and Rigby has called me his best bud since he first talked. Both Penny and Rigby made me feel like Elvis crossed with James Dean and Justin Timberlake the past six years.
I say “made” because, at least in Penny’s case, that status is now in the past tense. At least in part.
A note recently sent home with Penny requested the presence of either Mommy or me on a field trip she’s taking. Both of us appreciated the invitation, and my thoughts immediately jumped to a father-and-daughter whirlwind adventure about town. The destination of the field trip wasn’t even disclosed. It didn’t matter. Getting bonus time with my daughter — hanging with her and her little friends — had me gleefully looking forward to wherever we were going.
I assumed Penny would feel the same way. She loves going on dates with me, after all, and always revels with Rigby when my days off from work are forthcoming.
Intruding on her “other life,” as it turns out, does not solicit identical levels of jubilation.
She overheard the discussion on the note from the other room. When I left the living room to join her, Penny had this look I’d seen before, this look of trepidation mixed with utter annoyance and a touch of loathing. I couldn’t place the look at first, but after the first words dropped from her tongue it came to me.
She looked like a teenager.
“Daddy,” she asked with that off-putting tone that’s plagued parents for centuries. “Where can I stay if I don’t go on the field trip?”
“What do you mean? Why wouldn’t you go on the field trip?”
“Because you’re going to be there.”
Oh. So that’s it. My 6-year-old suddenly became 14.
“Why, sweetie? Are you embarrassed by me?”
“At school I am, yes. You coming on the field trip would be so embarrassing. Especially if it’s a trip that other parents don’t go on.”
Now, it should be noted we were asked to come by the school nurse in order to help out with Penny’s care due to her diabetes. So I am certain that having her condition brought to the attention of her classmates doesn’t thrill her. So I am treating this conversation with the due consideration the circumstances warrant.
But even so, c’mon now. I was cool an hour ago when we were playing on the swings at the park. Now I’m not?
“Well, sweetheart, I can stay in the back, if you want, behind the teachers and parents. You don’t have to hang out with me the entire time. But won’t it be cool if I get to spend the day with you?”
“Yes, except around my friends. That’s just embarrassing. You can come if you stay at least 1,000 feet behind me.”
“Oh, 1,000 feet, huh?”
“Well, 5,000 or a million would be better. But yes. I’d rather just not go on the field trip.”
So there it is. I got six years and two months of VIP status from my daughter. Now, much earlier than I expected, I’ve started slipping down the scale that every parent crashes to the bottom of at some point. Before you know it, I won’t even be Dad. I’ll be Leave Me Alone Dad. The only communication from her will be in the form of a complaint. I will be the enemy by default.
I’m jumping ahead, at least somewhat. I know parents can’t be the heroes forever, and we tend to get our due once the kids become adults. And even when teenagers loathe the very fiber of their parents’ being, those teens still know, deep down, they love Mom and Dad.
Just in a different way.
So if you see a short, stocky man about town in the next few weeks a stalker’s distance away from a group of kids, don’t be alarmed. That’ll just be me assuming my inevitable place in the caste system that is the relationship with my daughter. And I will enjoy it while it lasts, because before you know it she’ll start enforcing that million-foot barrier.
Contact Paul Lane at email@example.com.