One thing I don’t talk much about here on OWTBDR is fatherhood. While it’s been something of an intent to blog about the writing process and my growth as both a writer and a person, I haven’t really touched upon that part of me that’s the father to a five-year-old girl.
I’m very protective of her. Not overly protective, in a helicopter parent sort of way, but protective nonetheless. She can handle herself, but I still worry. As she gets older, I know I’ll find myself worrying about her more and more. Worrying if she’s making friends. If she’s eating right. If she’s staying out of trouble.
Most of all, I worry about her when boys become more than just boys. That’s when I’ll turn into that father that’ll tell her prospective boyfriends that I expect her home by 10, and if he even thinks of fucking with her, I have a gun and a shovel, and no one will miss him.
(Kudos if you remember what movie that line is from)
I don’t want want to be the dad that has to force-choke every boy that comes Sophia’s way, but I will if I have to. I just didn’t think it would have had to happen so goddammed soon.
We go out for pizza, because frankly neither Jaime nor I feel like cooking, and it’s not a school night, so why not? The pizza restaurant is pretty crowded, but we’re seated immediately. Sophia spots a video arcade. One of the Shrek movies is playing on a flat screen. We can see her from where we’re sitting. In other words, no creepy men loitering, no other exits for someone to snatch a child. There’s just Sophia and another boy, a few years older than her. Sophia is a very social child, so she has no problem interacting with other children, especially if they’re older than her.
Something isn’t right, though. Jaime’s intuition is like Spider-Man’s spider sense. It’s going off like crazy. She’s telling me something about the way that boy is engaging in conversation with Sophia just doesn’t sit right with her. I’m trying to tell Jaime it’s really nothing, but I know that’s not helping. Our pizza arrives, and I’m signaling Sophia to get her little ass over here and stop fooling around with the video games and eat some goddamned pizza. Okay, I didn’t say that, but my frantic gesturing pretty much telegraphed my emotions at that moment.
When Sophia sits down, she says the boy is nine years old. We ask her what she and that boy were talking about.
“Oh, he just asked me if I’d take my shirt off.”
At that moment, you don’t know if your kid is just pulling your leg, the way children sometimes do, or exaggerate just to get a reaction out of you. Lately, Sophia’s been complaining that no one in her kindergarten class likes her, which we know for a fact isn’t true; we’ve had parent-teacher conferences, and the one thing her teachers have told us is that Sophia has many friends in her class. She just gets emotional or fractious, who knows these days.
At first, I wanted to shrug it off. But when Jaime prodded a bit more, Sophia started getting very defensive, and then denied the boy said anything to her, that’s when I knew something was wrong. And that’s when my blood started to boil. Jaime could see it in my face. She’s seen that face before. She knows something bad is about to happen.
A long time ago, someone would have gotten hurt. Something would have gotten smashed.
I walk back to the arcade, and tap on the kid’s shoulder. “I want to ask you something: did you ask my daughter to take off her shirt?”
He shook his head. But something tells me he’s lying.
“That’s not what she told me. She said…”
“Please don’t kill me, mister.” Again, WHAT? The boy’s face was filled with panic. His eyes were alight with fear.
“What did you say?”
“Please, mister, I was only playing.”
I’m shaking my head. I’m all like, what the fuck, kid? I’m trying to remember if I ever pulled some shit like this when I was this kid’s age (answer: NO). “Did you think this was funny or something? What is wrong with you?” I’m really struggling here. There’s a part of me that seriously wants to jerk this kid off this chair and spank him. It’s what my mother would have done if this was 35 years ago, and some snot-nosed punk would have tried to pull a stunt like this on my sister, or tried to hurt me. She would have beaten this kid up, correctness be damned. One time, this brother and sister duo tried to steal my bike, but my mother caught them, and she just about smashed them up with a Whiffle bat. The girl ran screaming, saying she was going to get her dad, who was a cop (he wasn’t).
“GO GET YOUR FAGGOT FATHER!” my mother yelled. On the one hand, it was good knowing I had my mom to protect me. On the other hand, this is what I grew up with. Conflict resolution through violence. As infuriated as I was with that little boy for getting fresh with Sophia, I knew what the consequences would be if I laid a hand on him.
“You need to go back to where your mom and dad are,” I said to him. The little asshole turns to the Shrek movie and tells me he wants to finish watching it. He’s literally waving me off.
One more time…WHAT?
I lean down. “You need to get to your goddamned table right now!” I said, with my teeth clenched. The boy ran. I don’t know what he told his parents, but they left not thirty seconds later. Jaime saw me lean down towards the boy and got up. “I really thought you were going to hurt him,” she said. Later, I kicked myself for not following the boy back to his table. If some punishment was going to be doled out for his insolence, better it be from his parents.
To her credit, Sophia kept her cool and laughed about the whole incident. She called the boy “stupid.” We were proud of her for not playing along. She’s a smart girl.
But someday she’s going to be at an age where she’s going to start dating boys, and sometimes boys don’t think with their heads. They sometimes don’t want to take “no” for an answer. Mind you, Sophia’s got a vicious little temper, so any fool boy who crosses her is in for a rough time, but she’s going to have to learn there’s going to be moments when a boy is going to ask you to do something you don’t want to do. He’ll use all the right words, and promise you the moon and the stars, but I know what he wants, the little fucker.
And that’s the rub: I know how boys think. I knew better than to push the envelope, but I know there’s going to be some fuck-stained asshole boy out there that’s going to push the envelope with my girl, and he’s going to wish he never did. Because next time I will hurt someone. And if I don’t hurt them, Jaime will.
So pick your poison. Either way, it’s going to hurt. Badly.