My date with my daughter

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Few dates of my life stand out as memorable, but I hope the one I had on May 14 ranks up there with the first date I had with my wife 15 years ago.

Of course, the differences between the two are huge.

I didn’t realize in 1996 that the dinner I was having with my future wife was a date. I knew I was on a date last week.

I desperately wanted to impress the woman sitting across the table from me 15 years ago while I wasn’t concerned the least about impressing anyone on May 14.

And 15 years ago, my date barely wore any makeup (the prettiest girls need little, if any) whereas my date Saturday wore so much she looked like a cat.

OK, it wasn’t so much makeup as it was face paint, and it was perfectly normal for my date. After all, she’s only 9 years old, and we had attended our neighborhood’s spring fling earlier that afternoon at which the only thing she wanted was her face painted like a cat.

My date on May 14 was with my daughter Celeste as part of National Daddy-Daughter Tea Date, only we went out for donuts.

It was nothing fancy. I merely wanted to spend a little time alone with my daughter without distractions to begin connecting with her on a different level. She’s about to become an adolescent, and her world is about to grow beyond the walls of her home and elementary school.

I want to make sure she doesn’t outgrow me, which is one of the goals of National Daddy-Daughter Tea Date. I turned off my phone, left everyone else and everything at home, and we went to the donut shop for a few hundred calories of fried dough covered with sugar, sprinkles and chocolate.

I was glad to have the time alone with Celeste, but our conversation followed a predictable path for one involving a 9-year old girl. As she devoured her donuts, I asked about her best friend, her favorite subject in school, her favorite activity — all questions to which I already knew the answers.

She asked the same of me, and by the end of the donuts I felt no closer to my daughter than before. We’re close now, mind you. We spend a great deal of time together, though much of it is as a family, with my wife and our 6-year-old son Gavin.

I don’t know what I hoped for Saturday, but it was more than answers to superficial questions one would ask of a stranger while waiting for the bus.

I decided to try a different strategy. Since we ate in 30 minutes enough calories for half a day, I suggested we play basketball. We picked up Karen and Gavin, and we all went to the court.

But it was chilly and drizzly. Gavin was not enthusiastic about playing basketball, or even on the playground with the other kids who stopped by. He wanted to go home, while Celeste wanted to stay.

I suggested Karen drive Gavin home, and Celeste and I walk back when we were done. It’s only a mile, and it wouldn’t hurt to burn a few more calories given the donuts we ate that day. She agreed, and we strolled home bouncing the basketball and shooting the breeze.
Along the way, we passed a woman sitting on her front step smoking.

“Is she allowed to smoke, Daddy?” Celeste asked after we passed the woman.

“Yes, there’s no law against an adult smoking,” I said.

“Why do people smoke?” she asked.

A light went off in my head. Though I had no intention that day of talking with Celeste about peer pressure and the dangers of smoking, our walk home gave me the perfect chance. We were both relaxed and walking alone.

“Well, babe, smoking is incredibly addictive.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means people feel an uncomfortable feeling, a strong urge to smoke, and smoking takes away that urge and makes you feel comfortable. It’s a chemical in the cigarette called nicotine that your brain gets used to having and it doesn’t like it when it goes too long without it.”

“I don’t get it,” she said.

I paused for a moment to think how a 9-year-old could understand addiction. “You know how you feel hunger?”

“Yeah.”

“Does it feel good or bad?”

“Bad, I guess.”

“What makes it feel better?”

“Eating,” she said.

“So, eating satisfies that hunger, that urge, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And you feel better after you eat, right?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s the same kind of thing with smoking, but there’s a big difference. Smoking will kill you.”

“Oh.” She paused for a moment. “Then why do people smoke?”

“Well, smoking doesn’t kill you right away. It’s takes a long time, years even, so it’s easy to think it’s harmless. But it makes you stink, it turns your lungs black and your teeth yellow, and makes it hard to breathe.”

“But why do people start?” she asked.

“Most people start when they are teenagers, and they simply can’t beat the addiction when they grow up. It’s peer pressure. Teenagers pressure their friends into smoking. Some kids think it’s cool to do things other kids are doing. They want feel like they are part of the crowd.”

“Oh,” Celeste said. “I don’t smoke.”

“I know you don’t, babe.”

She said nothing, so I pressed on. “You’ll soon be a teenager, and you need to know about peer pressure. You need to know that you don’t have to do things just because your friends are.”

“I know,” she said.

By this point we were walking by a neighborhood swimming pool under construction, so our conversation veered off in a wildly different direction.

I know I’ll have to have more conversations with Celeste, and Gavin for that matter, about the dangers of smoking and peer pressure as they mature, but the date I had with my daughter on Saturday afternoon planted a seed in my mind for the right way to approach such subjects.

This is a repost of a blog entry I wrote for www.forfathersproject.org on May 16.

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