This photo has been circulating on Facebook:
I have the sense that most people find it funny. I don’t.
Even though my childhood wasn’t perfect, and my parents did their share of crazy and destructive things, I am thankful that my father never would have dreamed of doing something like this. In fact, my parents were actually pretty cool about the whole dating/prom thing. (I went to both of mine with “loaner” guys—good friends on loan from their girlfriends who were unable to attend. I had wanted to go with a date, but not a date, if you know what I mean.)
Back to the picture. There is so much wrong here that I’m not sure where to begin. Perhaps with the threat of physical violence by an adult toward an adolescent? Or the lack of trust between the father and his daughter? Or the idea that a young woman just needs a big, strong man to protect her from the evils of dating and sex? Take your pick.
I understand that the sentiment behind this is the idea that Daddy Dear is willing to go to any length to protect his beloved daughter. As a parent, I get it. I want to protect my kids, too. If anyone tries to hurt them, they will have Angry Mama Bear to contend with, and I would absolutely take a bullet or a speeding bus for them. But that’s the difference here. This man isn’t protecting his daughter from actual, real, impending threat. He’s the one doing the threatening under the assumption that his daughter is incapable of taking care of herself or making her own choices about her relationships and intimacy. (I’m not advocating for post-prom sex here; I’m just pointing out that unless her date is a rapist, then she herself is in control of what she does or doesn’t do with her date.)
There are a couple of things I’m sure that someone will want to point out to me about this. First, the dad “understands” the way boys think because he was one. You know what? I married a man who used to be a teenage boy. My father was a teenage boy. Every man in my family was a teenage boy at one point. Guess what? Not one of them would ever have considered doing anything like the man in the photo. Not only that, all the men in my family (including the one I married) give a lot more credit to their daughters than that man.
Second, I’m sure some people might wonder if I would go out of my way to protect my kids from potential dangers. Of course I would. But I also know they have to learn to stand on their own. Let me illustrate. My son likes to climb things. (I’m surprised he hasn’t found out how to get onto the roof yet.) When he was about 5, we were at the playground with some friends. He climbed up the outside of the tube slide, something he’d been doing for quite some time. When the other moms saw, they all yelled to him at once to get down. He got distracted and slipped, scraping himself on the way down. The other moms turned to glare at me, and one or two said, “I told you that would happen.” The problem is, they were the ones who caused the fall. If he hadn’t turned to see why they were calling him, he would have made it safely to the top.
When my son first started climbing, I did worry. I wanted to stand guard under him in case he fell. I wanted to tell him to stop, to wait until he was bigger, to tell him he shouldn’t do that. But that wouldn’t have stopped him. He would have continued trying, because that’s part of who he is. Instead of preventing him from climbing, I understood that I had to give him the confidence and the tools to do it safely.
I feel the same way about my kids and their future relationships. I want to provide them all the tools they need to be emotionally and physically healthy. Before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I don’t just mean giving my kids “the talk” and handing them condoms on prom night. I mean that I want to give them what they need so that they know how to stand up for themselves when they feel pressured into something they’re not ready for. I want to provide them a faith-based moral foundation so that they are spiritually prepared to make wise choices. I want them to understand healthy relationships. And yes, I want them to have everything they need in the event they make a choice that is different than what I would prefer.
Before someone points out that I don’t yet have teenagers and might feel differently, you’ll just have to trust me on this one. I know what kind of parents I had, and I know what kind of parent I want to be. I also know that my kids are surrounded by family and friends who care about us. I’m not worried. See, I trust my kids. I trust them because we have that kind of relationship. You won’t find my husband or me standing on the porch with a gun because it won’t be necessary. Instead, we’ll be the ones begging for one more picture before waving to them from the doorway. Kind of like my own parents.