Dreams realized usually create new dreams. It is hard therefore to accept that a dream is not very far from a nightmare. Nor a nightmare far from a dream! To say I love my daughter is an understatement. To say I understood what I was getting into is a gross understatement. Parenting is different than wanting to be a parent. My daughter is smart, intelligent, sassy, good-looking, organized and controlling. Children of alcoholics often feel that their life is out of control and that they have no stability. In my daughter’s case that was the issue. Her mother was gone from time to time for days on end. As a very young girl, she was forced to fend for herself. That is why I cooked with her, did her homework with her, and read to her on the phone on a regular basis. I was trying to provide some stability. The issue becomes apparent when the child, as a teenager, in the effort to become an adult, having had little security and therefore wanting to create it for herself tries to take over a normal household. In this case, mine. First, let me say thank you to my ex-wife (4). She was a gem. Without her, I am not sure what would have happened. She was the eye of the tornado, the calm in the fire-fight, the voice of reason in the argument and the had to learn to talk, not yell, to reason, not demand and to compromise when at all possible. By the time the dust had settled, she had finished her 8th-grade year in her hometown and moved to me in the early summer. School hadn’t started yet, she had two friends that would be going to the same school, so it was not like she knew no one. That’s a good thing. Freshman One of the first things she asked to do was to see her new high school. The change from middle school to High School is a huge move. To move from a town of 35,000 to a city of a half a million. From a town with one high school to a city with seven. From a HS population of 700 to 2500 kids in one HS, must have felt like climbing Mt Everest to her. We walked up the steps of the HS under a broad awning, about 25 yards long, in the school colors of magenta and grey and pushed open one of the six sets of double doors that make up the main entrance to this high school, and burst into tears. “It’s just too big Daddy, I can’t go here, I’ll get lost. “How many kids go here, there won’t be time to get from one class to another, where are my classes? – One question right after another with no time in between for an answer. And the tears just kept flowing. Yes, it was fair to say my 14-year-old daughter was a drama queen. One of the best things Mikki’s mother (for these purposes I will call my daughter Mikki – not her name) did for my daughter was volleyball. I remember my skepticism at the money I was shelling out for this team or that camp or traveling to this meet or what have you, but I must say it was an excellent thing. I was wrong about the volleyball. Volleyball practice starts about three weeks before school starts, and athletes do get some preferential treatment. Long before school started my daughter knew the school, her classes had a new group of friends and all was well, all because of volleyball. I still remember with incredible clarity the first time I took my daughter to HS volleyball practice. I could stay, but I decided not to. I didn’t want her “performing” for me. I wanted her to make friends and work on her game. I asked her if she wanted me to stay, knowing I would if she wished me to, also knowing that she most likely wouldn't. She didn't. The look on her face when I turned to wave goodbye was panic, fear, ‘what have I done' all rolled into one. The last thing she said to me was: "Daddy, you won't forget me, will you? I remember saying, "Honey, I will never forget you, ever, I promise!" Four or five years after the fact she still remembered being left at school. The ride home from practice was equally revealing. At first silence: then a flood of information, self-confidence, fear, self-assurance, doubt, confusion and one question after another. Mikki talked about how good the team was, and that she thought she had a shot at varsity and that the coach had said what "great hands," she had. She was as pumped up about the team and new friends on the ride home as she was fearful and scared when I left her. Mikki was fearful of the academic load as she said all the girls, “seemed so smart.” She said maybe she had some new friends. When could she get a car? Her new friend had a “Jag.” She was going to a good HS. Unfortunately, a wealthy one. A quick jog through the parking lot revealed Jags, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, and a host of cars she had no hope of getting. The good part was she was too young, and that was the answer. “Mikki, when you're old enough we'll talk all about it.” Mikki, “But I can get my driver’s license next year.” "I know that Mikki. You can get your learners permit next year, and you can drive with your step Mom or me as long as it is daylight." "Getting a car that is yours is a big step. There are grades and insurance and maintenance costs, all things you need to learn about first.” So, it started. The "car thing." Back to the counselor. I have learned a new respect for "shrinks" as I call them. Be they psychologists, clinical or otherwise their job is to make you look at yourself and assess how you are doing things. I was learning to tone it down, not have so many absolutes, ask questions first and not to put up walls. My ex (4), (Mikki’s step-mom) was doing a fantastic job of helping Mikki learn from all this and cool down. She too needed to ask questions first, not make demands, and look for a middle ground. Except for the occasional blow-up we were learning to live together. After almost a year, things were flowing smoother. Mikki’s grades were excellent, her teachers loved her. Halfway through her second season (sophomore year), she was put on the varsity volleyball team. She really did have “soft hands.” In volleyball parlance, "soft hands" means that you can gather in a ball, no matter how hard it is hit, and redirect it gently. The ball doesn't bounce off your hands, it is guided, gently to a team member. It is considered a great asset for both a defensive player and setter, which Mikki was. Sophomore - Junior It is now time to teach driving. I made a fundamental parental mistake. I tried to do it myself. Bad, terrible idea. Like trying to train oil and water to mix. After about three lessons my ex (4) took over, and Mikki learned to drive. Very well I might add. Now there is the issue of the car. A Jag? No. A Porsche? No. A Mercedes? No! You know the drill. Kid gets a new car, insurance rates are very high, kid wrecks car, rates go higher for everyone, and now there is a real problem. So what car can my daughter get that is reasonable, unusual, relatively inexpensive, light on both the repairs and the insurance? Try a canary yellow, 1969 VW Bug, with white bumpers and wheels. To her credit, it was love at first sight. New engine, new tires, new tranny, new interior and a bargain at that. It seems the seller had been trying to unload the car for a while with no luck. He sold it for the cost of the repairs and upgrades which was just below the wholesale value of the vehicle. I loved it. Happy seller meets happy buyer. Match made in heaven. She agrees to work and pay for the gas and oil changes and one-quarter of the insurance. She gets babysitting jobs, yard work jobs, jobs helping friends who have other work and really, I am quite proud of her. Her payments are on time, in full, every time. She is very responsible. Except for the first time I got a call, crying of course. The police have pulled Mikki over for of all things a tail light that was out. There are three friends in the car, music blaring and she didn't see or hear the policeman soon enough. They are taking her downtown. Would I pleeeeeese, come down and get her. Here a parent has a few options. You can 1: say no, I'll come to get you in the morning; 2) go get her and pay the fine and all is well, or 3) to get her but not pay the fine and make her go through the court appearance with you. Which is what I did. Mikki never got another ticket. I am not sure she has since. The car was well taken care of, and the new "checklist" was reviewed before she went out with the car. Regular maintenance schedules were adhered to. She is really a great kid. Almost all the time! Most interesting to me in all of this “car thing,” is that at the end of her senior year, when kids vote on Prom King/Queen, most popular, etc. Her 1969, canary yellow VW Bug was voted the second most popular car in school. Kudos to Dad. Senior September of her senior year, she is on the traveling” Volleyball Club Team,” and her HS team and is being looked at by several colleges and smaller Universities. She is just a bit too small for Intercollegiate 1 A, but for 1B and C, she is just fine. Most of the time 1A is looking for 5'10" or more and a bigger girl, even in a setter. Mikki is a tad shorter and of slight build. At the athletic assembly at the start of the season, each sport for that semester is featured. After the volleyball team had done their drill, Mikki was called out to centercourt alone. The coach started hitting her spikes, each one in a different place, each one more difficult, each successive one harder. She got to and returned correctly to the player standing at the side of the net in frontcourt each new spike. At first, the applause was polite, then a bit more enthusiastic.
Finally, the coach lofted one over her head, backcourt center. Mikki slid under the ball and returned it behind her, over her head to the player frontcourt left. The applause was huge. She really was a special player. Dad couldn't be prouder. In January of her Senior year, she has been on Varsity Volleyball since midway through her Sophomore year. Grades have been excellent, about a 3.8 GPA, she is a model student. My friends in the school; parents, teachers, and staff who are clients and friends, keep a good eye on her and all her reports are excellent. In mid-January, I am looking for grades. Mikki, have you seen them? “No Dad!” Is everything ok? “Yes, Dad.” February 1, no grades. I know they have been mailed because her friends got them. Mikki, where are your grades. “I don’t know Dad!” “I don’t know what has happened? But everything is fine.” I had gotten a call from one teacher in early December, telling me Mikki was behind on her homework and her grade in math was dropping. I asked Mikki what was going on and was told not to worry, she would catch up, and the grades would be fine. I had no reason to worry. I said okay, called the teacher back and told her Mikki said she would catch up. Case closed. The second week in February is State Championship finals. The finals are being held at Mikki’s HS. I take the opportunity at halftime to go upstairs to the Registrar and ask for her grades and ask why she hadn’t gotten them. The Registrar, client and friend gave me a funny look and said, “We mailed them.” I opened the trifold grade paper. Mikki's GPA for the semester was a 1.7, barely a D+. Mikki and I have an agreement. All she needs is a C+(2.5) average to be allowed to play volleyball. I have been lied to, conned, led on and just about everything in character traits that I cannot stand.
I sat down on a bench outside the office to try and grab what little composure I thought I might have. I could hear the crowd yelling as the match had started again! What do I do? Our agreement is C+. She broke that agreement. Worse she knew it and hid the grades or tore them up and lied! Continually, for weeks! What do I do? The team is in the middle of the State Championship and slated to win. It is Mikki’s senior year. I did the only thing I felt I could do. I waited until the whistle blew to stop play and change serves. I walked out to the middle of the court, showed Mikki her grades and hauled her into the stands. The coach yelled in my face! The players yelled at me! The referee yelled at me! Most all the parents yelled or booed. A couple clapped. My daughter screamed, cried. When order was restored, the game continued. Her team lost and was out of the tournament. I got calls from parents who hated what I had done and a couple that supported me. To me, none of that mattered. The only thing that mattered was my daughter's character and our agreement. You don't lie, you keep your word. If something is wrong, you own up to it. Had she come to me and told me what was going on I might have let her play. But this way. Nope. Mikki must have said twenty times how much she hated me. At that moment I think she did and it hurt. She took advantage of my trust and her Step-Moms trust and her teammates and her coach. It is the action of the parent who is parenting that must teach the hard lessons. That day I was, in my opinion, a good parent. I felt horrible. It was a few weeks before we spoke again. I didn’t push her. I think I did the right thing. I hope I did. One argument against what I did was the effect on the team and the outcome of the tournament. But if I let her play what have I taught her? What have I taught her team or her coach, or the parents in the stands? After everything died down and she was close to graduation, she came to me and asked if she could skip school. I laughed! I said, Honey if you are asking for permission to "skip school" then you won't be "skipping school." She said it was “senior skip day.” I said: “we didn't have this conversation. You don't have my permission to skip school, but if I were you I would do it anyway, have a great time.” This time she laughed. I also think this time she had learned her lesson.
College Sometime late in her Junior year of HS we began to consider college. The agreement was that I would pay for half and Mikki for half. Any aid, help, scholarships, etc. that she got went directly to her half and didn’t reduce my half unless her half was gone. One day she came to me with a map, a pencil, and some string. She placed the string on our hometown and drew a circle around our city. Mikki said: “Dad, I don’t want to go anywhere inside the circle. That is about seven hundred miles.” Seven hundred miles is far enough away that her step-mom and I cannot just pop-in. Far enough away that she feels she is on her own, yet close enough that in an emergency we could be there in 10 hours. Well thought out. Well done Mikki. So, we started the process: applications, volleyball tapes, skills tapes, game tapes and school trips. Some amusing and fascinating incidents along the way changed Mikki's perspective. At one school they took her to a pot party. Wrong! With her background, that school was out of the running. At another school, she worried about the academic load and the athletic load. We said goodbye to a full ride at that school. At a third school, she got very sick, wound up in the hospital and asked me to come to get her. Got her out of the hospital in time to retake her SAT’s which turned out to be a good choice. Her scores rose, seemingly with the added concentration required from being ill. Out of all the visitations and the work came three things: first, seven hundred miles wasn't necessary: second, a smaller school was better. And third: she didn't want to play volleyball she wanted to concentrate on studies and school life. Who am I to argue? She realized on her own the direction she needed to go in. She was becoming an adult. Volleyball served its purpose and was over. I was okay with that. Mikki wound up one state away, about 7 hours by car, through the mountains. A small school with an excellent marketing department. To top it off, not overly expensive for out of state students provided they were from a state with reciprocal agreements. We were. She did well. I firmly believe that children, adults, human beings, in general, do not appreciate something they are given as much as something they earn. We tend to think that education is a right. It isn't, it is a privilege if for no other reason than education if treated poorly, is lost. You cannot lose a “right,” it is innately there even when you don’t have it. History has proven this time, and time again. The tendency is for the child who does not do well in school, not do well in life. Mikki paid for half of her schooling. She got scholarships, work grants, was on the student activities board, the student judicial board, reorganized the computer scheduling for school maintenance, and was a Resident Advisor. Her last two years of college cost her nothing. Quite literally no money. She stuck with her favorite subject marketing, all the way through college. She graduated with a 3.5 average in the top 20% of her class. I paid for my half and she for hers. Within a week of graduation, she had a job. Quickly realizing she did not want to work in a store, she wanted a bigger corporation she quit her job, moved to the largest city in the state and started applying for jobs. In thirty days, she had a career in marketing with a large corporation. She has worked ever since. Before I dropped her off at college we sat down and had a talk. We discussed four things: First, I was done. I had done everything as a parent I thought I could do. While I had always been her Dad, I had also been a parent. That role if she wanted it to be gone was gone. She was an adult, all-be-it young adult and I was finished being a parent. I would call her regularly to say hello and find out how she was but no more advice unless she asked for it. I have stuck to that. Second, she had earned an allowance for college. A small one to be sure but some extra spending money none-the-less. It would be put into her bank account at the start of each month. If she needed extra money something unexpected or more than we had budgeted, all she needed to do was call. (That call didn't take long. Her books were considerably more than we had planned. I called the bookstore and checked on it, paid for her books on the phone and all was well.) Third, she was welcome to come home anytime. She was now an adult. If she came back, except for a visit, she had four months of free rent, free food free help. After that, the rent food, and her portion of utilities we due at the beginning of the month. She was after-all and adult. Adults have responsibilities. Fourth, I told her I loved her, very much. I said I was extremely proud of her and the choices she made. I told her I was very sad that she was leaving. And she was leaving. I did, she did, and most kids do. College is the final step, the last door through which children pass on their way to becoming adults. I was indeed done as a parent. Hopefully never as a Dad. I miss my daughter. I suppose that from the things that happened when she was a child I always will. Could we move near her? Yes, but then her job might move her, or her husband’s job might move him, as has happened twice already. Besides, I am not sure my daughter would want me there full time. We have never discussed it. Maybe we should. Did I do my job as a parent? Yes, I think I did. To the best of my ability and what our situation handed me. Outside of her standing in the corner for not eating something or serving her dinner for breakfast and the stupid things like that, I think I did a good job. I love Mikki very much. That will never change.