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Being A Dad And Raising A Daughter

Being A Dad and Raising a Daughter by Peter Moore

You have to look for the openings with a kid. When they come along, you recognize them somehow and flow into them. It’s like in heavy traffic—the space opens, and you glide into it, even as you maintain speed.

Every kid is the center of the universe. We big people, whether parent, teacher, friend or elder, have to guide them to understand that everyone else is the center of the universe too. Our job is to listen and dream into that young being, teaching by truth, temperment and touch.

Earlier this decade, I spent a few years single-dadding it with my teenage daughter Jazz Minh. We were both so busy being the center of our own respective universes that it was a stretch to enter into each other’s world. No surprise there, of course. True transpersonal communication verges on enlightened behavior, and neither of us was that. At 13, Jazz was as fully individuated as I was, and she had an agenda, even if she couldn’t always articulate it. Though I had never been over the territory of raising a teenager before, I committed myself to being an engaged dad, to emphatically letting her know my truth and drawing her’s out. The next five years combined moments of outrage and righteous indignation with incredibly tender occasions of love and pride-in-being for another.

I’d tell her, “Look, I know you’re going to do everything. But no matter what you do, the most important thing is, you have to survive. No getting into a car with a drunk driver, no AIDS. But that’s only the first part. Beyond survival, I want you to thrive.” We visited this theme often.

Along the way we faced off on all the big issues—sex, tobacco use, theft, sneaking out at night, academics, drug use, household chores, authority, choice of friends. Probably one or two more, but I can’t remember them all right now.

Our dad/daughter relationship was a journey into chapel perilous, an uninsured joyride down the highways and byways of “real life,” though it got quite unreal and surreal at times. With no guarantee of any particular outcome, let alone happy endings, parenting is only for the brave or the foolish. Meanwhile, childhood is like a permanently altered state.

You have to look for the openings with a kid. When they come along, you recognize them somehow and flow into them. It’s like in heavy traffic—the space opens, and you glide into it, even as you maintain speed. With Jazz, I kept looking for that special opening, the one that would combine the magic of her sustained interest and a creative possibility for her future.

For me and my daughter, the big opening happened during her senior year, the time Jazz disappeared up to Portland without my permission. When I found her note saying she’d gone to see her boyfriend, I was pissed. We had an agreement—she broke it. That evening, when I finally got her on the phone, I launched into my complaint with “We’ve been through this before, Jazz . . .” but she cut me off, explaining that she’d just attended a Portfolio Review Day. This was an informally juried event for high school art students, judged by art depart-ment personnel from various colleges. On the basis of the art pieces she’d rushed to put together for it that morning, she had been accepted to attend the art college in Portland, and Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. There was a certain quality in her voice. I stopped being mad. I stopped being right. I listened.

Jazz is 19 now and attends Cornish in Seattle. She has become this beautiful, intelligent young woman, and one of my best friends. Our struggles during those years changed a cute daddy/daughter relationship into a profound alliance. My notion of what love is and can be has been transformed in that process.

On reflection, I think adults also live in an altered, though slightly alienated state most the time. If we didn’t, we would care about and contribute to the well-being of all children, as if they were all family members. They are the most defenseless of human creatures, they need the most nurturing, and our future as a species depends on them.

And they can drive us crazy. Young people will do everything on their journey to find out what’s real. Being the center of the universe gives them the right to try anything, to break any rule. Even if your kid doesn’t do it, someone else’s will. This is the way of kids. Let’s teach them to survive, so we can all thrive.

Peter Moore is the editor of Alternatives Magazine. He lives in Salem.

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