The glowering dad and the awkward suitor, it’s the fatherhood cliché that has spawned a thousand commercials and movie scenes. Entire cinematic franchises have been build around the notion of the old man, shotgun at the ready, on guard to protect his daughter’s virtue. Have you Met the Fockers?
But the media is about as accurate a reflection of reality as a Picasso, while being a shitload less inspiring.
Which leaves me wondering what a dad’s role in the sexual safekeeping of a daughter should be.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because the pictures of puppies on my tween girl’s closet were displaced overnight by something called One Direction. Apparently, it’s an organization promoting the generous use of hair gel, from what I gather from the posters, anyway. She’s officially a middle schooler now. Goodbye, puppies. Hello, hair gel.
Because looking over my shoulder for my wife every time the subject comes up is clearly inadequate, it’s time for me to think about how best to deal with a maturing girl. My initial take is that I don’t want to be a Focker. The shotgun bearing dad is a worn out image of fatherhood and protecting a daughter’s virginity seems so antique it’s downright biblical. I’ve got an important role here, but chastity belt key bearer is not it. Bottom line: It’s her body.
It’s one reason this article in the NYTimes grabbed my attention. The piece describes a series of programs directed at middle schoolers that are designed to help the kids to avoid abusive relationships. Students compose art projects and engage in role play intended to start conversations about healthy respect and boundaries.
When asked to respond to potentially dangerous scenarios, two girls cited in the article both responded quickly with a variation of “my dad would kill me.” When imagining consequences of going to an online acquaintance’s house alone, these girls felt immediately constrained by glowering Focker Fathers. Maybe the old schoolers are onto something.
Is this a case where just a touch of fear and intimidation might be justified? If the end result is a girl that makes good decisions when faced with potentially dangerous situations, maybe I should prop the Remington by the door. Could my feminism be a disservice to my daughter?
Intimidating your daughter (and her dates) into healthy relationship decisions seems related to spanking your sons for fighting — hair of the dog parenting — but what if it works? And It certainly seems to be a popular approach, judging from my unscientific observations. All goofy Hollywood glop aside, I hear real dads making the shotgun joke all the time. Is this still a useful role for dads? Or should we be shooting for something else, something subtle, something Hollywood would never be able to get quite right?