(This excerpt starts at Chapter Two of Raising the Dad.)
John and his daughter sat opposite each other, worlds apart. They were both on their laptops, seated together at the kitchen table so that John could idly cast an eye over every so often to hold Katie's internet explorations in check. She was supposed to be doing homework, but he knew she had half a dozen texts going while allegedly studying for a social studies test. Her fifteen-year-old fingers danced out fevered teenage chitchat, her words that crude online shorthand: OMG GTFO WE F/F.
The Diary of Anne Frank would read like if she had had a Twitter account,
John often mused to himself.
He was supposed to be finishing up the federal grant proposal he had been writing for almost three months. His job was finding supplemental funding for Next Step, the nonprofit where John worked as the development director. Next Step provided transitional living for kids who had "aged out" of foster care, and John found the government agencies and foundations that wrote checks for such projects. He was expert at decoding the massive knot of institutional bullshit they spun to make sure no one got their help without suffering first.
Lately, though, he spent these homework sessions getting lost in watching his daughter. It was easy; he could just glance past his screen, knowing she was too transfixed by her conversations to know she was being observed.
Studying her intense gaze as it softly shifted from unguarded smiles to deep concern, he could see the whole range of adolescence play across her face. He should have coaxed her back to her studying but it was too pleasing, just being able to sit there and watch her be.
He and Robin worried about her grades, and about new friends shaping her in troubling ways. An understated goth look had begun to creep into her appearance. It was nothing dire, just a new affinity for dark clothes and an unflattering thickening of black mascara around her soft blue eyes. Despite some new surliness, Katie was still a sweet but overweight teenager, just the sort to embrace a fashion trend that John thought was rooted in a kind of preemptive ugliness. Who could hurt a kid for her body size or her face or her lack of awesomeness when she willfully made herself ugly to all but those who defiantly wore the costume alongside her?
John saw the older goths when he dropped Katie off at school, and their sneering commitment to the pose—the piercings, the tattoos, the whole Bela Lugosi-meets-the-Third Reich facade—struck him as nothing but the insolent armor of sad, wounded kids. It stung his heart to think that his sweet-souled daughter might be lost to such a joyless clique.
He typed something, and then heard the gentle bing
of a new text arriving on her screen.
"Dad, stop," she laughed before catching herself. "I know it's you."
"No, it's Johnny, your Samoan pen pal. You really should talk to him, I hear his family is loaded."
She shook her head. He typed some more and transmitted it across the table.
She sighed, playing along: "Johnny wants to know how school was today," she said.
"Hmm, I was wondering that myself," John said. "I often find myself thinking like a Samoan."
She typed a terse response. John's laptop beeped'. "Fine
?"' John read from his screen. "Your day was fine
? Johnny was hoping for more detail. Johnny wants to know if you've still got a crush on that Brendan kid. With the red Mohawk and the infected nose ring."
She shut her laptop. "I think I'll go study in my room."
"Then you won't need these," he said, relieving her of her computer and phone and handing her her social studies book. "Take a cookie, you look hungry."
She gave her father that irked but tolerant teenage sigh, the one that John chose to believe said, "You do
understand that mannerisms imposed upon me by my age and peer group prevent me from revealing that I am actually rather fond of you, don't you?"
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