Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Great Silence and How It Began

Avid readers of this journal — and there isn’t any other kind — know that my daughter, the person I’ve loved most and best in this world, hasn’t spoken to me since March 2002. In the early days of our estrangement, people would reflexively say, “Well, she’s only 17 [and then 18, and then 19, and then 20], and will come around when she grows up a little.” Now that she’s in her mid-twenties, and has grown up a little, she's writing in her church newsletter about how she’s a great believer in forgiveness, except when it comes to her dad, and people are more inclined to wonder aloud what I could have done to make her so very angry.

Well, now it can be told. A couple of months after her 16th birthday, before which her mother and I had allowed her only to attend well-chaperoned parties, she began dating Matt, a senior at the high school at which she herself was a sophomore. I saw a lot of my younger self in him, and not a little James Dean. He tried to conceal his shyness under a veneer of toughness, and did a lot of what psychologists have come to call acting out. He was regularly suspended from school for fighting. He had no driver’s license because he’d shown up drunk for his driving test, and been arrested.

At the same time, I could well understand my daughter’s attraction to him. He was good-looking and athletic (I found out later that he’d been a very promising gymnast before becoming addicted to marihuana), and carried himself in a way that made other boys want to follow him into battle. He had unmistakable native intelligence, though it embarrassed him when I noticed.

Lacking a driver’s license, he had asked a buddy to drive him over to meet me the first evening and then take my daughter to see one of those explosion-filled Nicolas Cage movies teenage boys seem to like. I wasn’t comfortable, though, with the idea of my daughter alone in a souped-up ’61 Impala with two Auto Shop toughs, and so insisted, in spite of her seething, on driving them myself. She only got angrier when Matt sat in front with me because be thought he’d feel like an idiot riding with her in the back “like a couple of rich assholes with a chauffeur”. He asked if it were all right to smoke in the car, and I was afraid that my saying no might jeopardize our growing bond, but he just shrugged and said, “That’s cool. I can wait.”

He and my daughter began seeing a lot of each other. Apparently at her request, they took the bus several afternoons a week to walk around Spring Lake chatting. Like any father, I’d hoped she’d marry an anesthesiologist or an attorney specializing in intellectual property issues, or, better yet, be one herself, but if an auto mechanic made her happy, it made me happy too.

But then one afternoon maybe seven weeks after the Nicolas Cage movie, Matt phoned my office to say he needed to see me. I had Jeannie cancel my 3:00 o’clock to accommodate him. He was a mess. It appeared as though he hadn’t slept well in days, or shaved. He reeked of cigarettes, apparently having showered no more often than shaved. He gnawed on one of his fingernails, though, as with anyone who works on cars, there was a lot of black gunk beneath it. He said my daughter was “really nice and cute and all,” but that it was me with whom he was really in love.

I was of course terribly flattered, but made very clear to him that I’m straight, and could never be more than a confidant or mentor to him. He glared at me accusingly for a long moment, and then ran from my office in tears. My daughter apparently stopped hearing from him, but refused to discuss it with me. A couple of weeks later, The Great Silence began.

1 comment:

  1. What if...
    she didn't know how to start the whole, complicated reconciliation process?

    what if...
    the other parent did and could?