Not many teenagers on the planet think their parents are cool. In fact, most probably think dear old dad is clueless on a number of fronts, from fashion, social issues and relationships to what really happens at school, and everything in between. When my daughter Kristin was a teenager she placed me in this clueless category, but Kristin had an even greater challenge: I’m a bit eccentric, a non-conformist, and well known in our hometown because I’m an author and hosted a television show. Teens want their parents to blend in but try as I might, it’s just not in my DNA.
Part of my problem is that I’m frugal. Let’s start with my clothes: I thought it was perfectly acceptable to apply Vaseline petroleum jelly to my sneakers to make them water-proof, to wear my short-shorts from the 1980’s because they were still in one piece, and to wear a pink-and-turquoise belly shirt of similar vintage when cutting the lawn. And on really hot days, I’ll often wear no shirt at all. All of this, according to Kristin, is simply not acceptable for any father, but especially not for me because I have no belly-button. Yes, it’s true: my umbilical cord broke away from my stomach during birth. If someone, such as one of Kristin’s friends, notices this lack of a belly button, I just say, “I was hatched.” The friend would politely excuse herself, and of course later would ask Kristin ‘what’s up with your Dad?’
Another item important to teens but not to me is the family car. Kristin wanted a newer model, preferably an expensive one, but would have settled for non-descript sedan as long as it was clean. My car, however, is neither. My ancient Subaru is my home on wheels because I travel so much researching, giving presentations or pursuing my outdoor hobbies such as fishing and gardening. Consequently the car has a bit more “stuff” in it than most. It always has a stash of food, ranging from spaghetti to M&M’s to watermelon. Some of the food invariably falls on the floor, where it might mingle with a freshly caught trout (or one I overlooked to remove from the car), a holly tree dug from the woods, or a bag of manure. I also keep my electric shaver, dental floss, and a self-made “car bib” in the Subaru to keep myself well groomed and stain free.
Having “mortified” my daughter with my outfits and cars, I now feel I can advise other Dads whose children will soon become teenagers: it’s not cool to pull up to your kid’s high school to pick them up in a smelly jalopy with plants coming out the windows. And you should never exit the car, especially when you’ve just Vaselined your sneakers and have your favorite pair of short-shorts on. You might get noticed – and that is not what your kid wants.
Kristin claims that family vacations were especially tough on her, because we’d go stay at some god-forsaken place in the hills of northern new England which would take her away from her all-important social events like Jade’s pool party or Sara’s barbecue. These, Kristin told me, are the places to be “seen” and also where the boys would be.
It was during one these vacations up north where Kristin started recording in her journal just how bad the trip was. She’d describe how the food was “glop,” how the pool was closed because some kid pooped in it, and how our cabin turned out to be a scorching “tin-can” mobile home. She expanded the journal to cover all our trips, and a few years later when she was 19 and in college (and away from Dear Old Dad) she read me parts of recollections and we both cracked up. That’s when we had the idea to write the Cringe Chronicles: Mortifying Misadventures with my Dad. Kristin wrote each chapter from her point of view, but I’d have my say too in “A Dad’s View.”
It took us a couple years to write the book, but something magical happened during that time. Kristin’s teenage embarrassment over her father’s odd lifestyle was replaced by a combination of humor and appreciation. Instead of dreading a vacation with Dad, she actually encourages me to join her (as long as she could plan the itinerary). Instead of cringing at the misadventures I cause, she embraces them, knowing even a “bad” trip is better than a boring trip.
So to all you Dads out there whose teenager thinks you’re a dork, hang in there. Your child just might surprise you when they are out on their own and emerge from the teen angst with a sense of humor.