The following is based on actual events:
Watching his five-year-old play in the sandbox, the man is filled with wonder at the beauty and perfection of his little girl. As she’s pushing sand into piles, creating an imaginary world full of plastic figurines and matchbox cars, he’s amazed at her creativity and imagination. Yes, this one is destined for great things in life. He settles back in the folding chair, glances at his wonderful wife, and enjoys the wave of peace enveloping this idyllic Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, because the man tends to think too much, a thought worms through his serenity. A sense of dread rolls across his brain like a thunderstorm rumbling over an open plain. A mood shift occurs, and the man leans forward, his eyes laser focused on the grass between his feet.
“He’s out there,” he mutters.
His wife glances over the top of her magazine. “Who?”
“He’s out there right now, playing on a swing set or wrestling with his friend.”
“Who’s out there?”
“The one who’s going to take my daughter from me.”
I begin this month’s column with an indisputable truth. All men are pigs. This can’t be argued, refuted, or denied. Any attempt to debunk the premise is as fruitless as claiming the sky isn’t blue, water isn’t wet, or there’s a word that rhymes with orange. Now, the fact that we are all pigs does not mean we will engage in inappropriate or boorish behavior. Our culture sends clear messages about how we should act, and older role models help us learn proper conduct. My wife has been known to refer to me as a “trained pig.” As objectionable as her description sounds, I consider her words a compliment. They indicate I’ve conducted myself well within the realms of polite society.
However, despite outward behavior that is, to use an outdated term, “gentlemanly,” there are innate forces at work, fighting against every guy’s better self. This truth leads to a simple mathematical equation: Daughters + Dating = Terror in the Hearts of Fathers. This formula creates a paradigm most dads experience—the uncontrollable urge to safeguard their female offspring during the dating season.
This manifests itself in a number of ways. We’ve all heard the stories of men cleaning their guns or sharpening their knives when some pimple-plastered sixteen-year-old shows up to take his daughter to a movie. Comedian Bill Engvall, in one of his routines, claims to have told a suitor “You remember these words—I’ve got no problem going back to prison.” Back in the sixties, a man in our neighborhood would sit on a chair in the driveway, shotgun across his lap, sipping his weekend scotch. His purpose was to make sure no boys were skulking around, hoping to catch a glimpse of, or maybe talk with, his two attractive teenage daughters. The desire to protect frequently extends to male siblings. As I shared in a previous column (https://bit.ly/3sv6qdX), my Dad once had an interesting encounter with my one of my Mom’s brothers. Dad was exiting a jazz club and my uncle, a police officer, was waiting outside in his squad car. He motioned my father over and pointedly asked “Are you taking my sister in there?” When my dad replied no, the uncle followed up with something along the lines of “Good, and make sure you don’t.”
Now, these days there is a downside to overtly displaying a firearm or openly preparing your cutlery for combat. Our culture has evolved, and a direct demonstration of force is considered bad form and possibly illegal. However, there are certain strategies to ensure the budding ladies’ man knows you’re ready to keep him in line. The following strategies are my favorite tactics.
Disrespect the Name: There are numerous ways to do this. For example, if his name is Lyle, call him Kyle. A kid named Campbell should be called Soup. Add an “ie” at the end, converting Steve to Stevie. Trust me, this one makes the guy nuts. Don’t shy away from creativity. Say his name is Noah. Use Moses instead. Also, don’t be afraid to be a touch crude. The name Colin easily converts to Colon. The key here is consistency. You can’t let up for a minute. I’ve used boyfriend nicknames as my phone contacts and, with my son-in-law, have continued the practice into their fourth year of marriage.
Utilize Hypotheticals: There’s no downside to sharing a moment on the back porch with your daughter’s aspiring paramour and pointing out (1) the soil’s soft and (2) boy, you could hide a body out there forever. While you’re not posing a direct threat, he’ll get the picture. If he’s too dim to figure out what you’re saying, don’t worry. Your highly intelligent daughter will dump the blockhead before the relationship get serious. Another good tactic is to compliment the guy’s knowledge and field of expertise while getting your message across. Consider this scenario. You’re sitting in a pizza shop with your daughter’s law-student boyfriend. Ask him, in a joking manner, what would happen if, as a warning, you fired a bullet between the feet of another individual. Be sure to laugh and smile, letting him know you’re having good-natured Friday night fun. Not only will you get top-notch legal advice, but you’ll also paint a picture he won’t forget.
Of course, there are times you have to be direct. I’ve been known to gesture expressively with a steak knife at a boyfriend to emphasize a point during dinner. While my hand gestures were casual and clearly part of whatever conversational point I was making, I’m confident an impression was made. Another time, I told my son-in-law that if anything happened to my daughter on a trip, (1) I’d hunt him down and (2) they’d never find the body. As a bonus, a son, uncle, or grandparent can often help reinforce this message. Within minutes of meeting my son-in-law, my mother famously pulled him in close and stated, “If you hurt her, I’ll kill you.” I’m pretty sure she was smiling.
I’m confident there are fathers in the younger generation who consider my musings the rantings of an obsolete curmudgeon who doesn’t understand the modern dating world. Times have changed, they’ll argue, humankind’s more enlightened and us men should evolve beyond the ancient stereotypes. They’re wrong. The well-dressed kid may present as a nice young man, call you “sir,” and politely chuckle when you crack a corny joke. Your wife may mention he’s a straight-A student, part of the marching band, and volunteers every Saturday at the Food Bank. Don’t be fooled. Under the surface, he’s still a pig. And he’s standing at the front door. Waiting for YOUR daughter. Make sure he knows there are boundaries.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the downside to my recommended approach. There’s no question you’ll drive your wife and your daughter crazy. Your wife because she, back in the day, knew how to handle herself just fine. Your daughter because she’d appreciate a little trust, thank you very much. Both will point out how you don’t monitor your son’s dating with the same fervor. While they are correct, I can’t offer a rational explanation as to why. There’s another factor, too. Despite all your posturing, threats, and tough talk, you have limited influence on the outcome. In the end, your daughter is going to fall in love using her own good sense and personal preferences. You’ll support her because you love her and believe in her judgment. Perhaps there are fathers out there who have embraced this reality and don’t stress about their female progeny interacting with the opposite sex. Seeing how events transpired in my family, I know I could have kept my mouth shut, put the steak knife down, and had faith in how my daughter was raised.
Then again, you can’t be too careful. Maybe the best approach is to be civil but keep a shovel on hand, just in case. You never know when you’ll encounter a pig who isn’t properly trained.
Steven Rogers’ novel Into the Room is available in paperback and on Kindle. If you’d like to order a copy, please visit Amazon or his website: https://steven-rogers.com/
March News from Steve
The audiobook for “Into the Room” is underway! We’ve completed the first three chapters. I’ll continue to keep everyone posted as we move forward.
For $16 I will mail you a signed copy of the “Into the Room,” along with a personalized message, anywhere in the continental United States. If you’re purchasing the book as a gift, the inscription can be customized to address the recipient. For additional information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please allow five to six days for delivery.
If you enjoy my columns and don’t want to miss one, please subscribe by filling out the “Follow Steve” block on my website: https://steven-rogers.com/.
Folks have asked how they can help promote “Into the Room.” If you’d like to assist, I’d love more reviews on Amazon and, of course, please “talk up” the book to others. Also, I enjoy discussing “Into the Room” with book clubs, reading groups, and individuals. If you or a group/individual you know is interested, please email me at email@example.com.