Parts in red are ones that I'm thinking about editing.
It was another one of those nights: I came home five minutes after my curfew of eleven o'clock and there was Dad blocking my path, and refusing to let me pass until he grounded me until I left for university.
"Where have you been?" he demanded. "Your mother and I have been worried sick!"
"I was out with some friends, but since you never listen to me why should I tell you?!" I screamed. I tried to push past him so I could go to my room but he wouldn't let me.
It was only after he had chewed me out for about half an hour and grounded me for a week (house arrest from the moment the bus dropped me off after drama rehearsal until I left the next morning) that I finally managed to escape to my room.
As I changed into my pajamas I couldn't stop thinking about the way it used to be--those days when I was little and we would hang out together all afternoon, going to the playground at the elementary school and getting ice cream on the way back, or watching PBS on the weekends--he liked the science shows, I liked the craft shows.
But everything changed when I hit puberty. He started distancing himself from me and started to really set rules: my curfew (ten o'clock on school nights, eleven on weekends), no eating in front of the TV, I couldn't play "offensive" music--meaning no rap or hip-hop. Ever. When I emailed a friend he'd peer over my shoulder even if it was to my best friend Erica. On and on and on: it never stopped.
"Why didn't you call me last night?" Erica asked. We were sitting together on the bus, just the way we had since she moved from Saskatchewan when we were ten.
"Dad gave me a hard time just because I was five minutes late. It's so unfair! Why can't I move in with you?" Erica and her dad were like two peas in a pod: they went to movies together, they read together, once she told me about how he had asked about why there weren't any "father-daughter" ballet classes at her dance school (they had one for mothers and daughters).
"it isn't all rosy," she replied. "I still get in trouble if I don't take out the trash when I'm supposed to. He's grounded me a couple of times. But he knows I'm human and that I make mistakes. Why don't you talk with your dad? Tell him how you feel. If you're constantly yelling at him of course he's going to ground you."
"I don't think that'll ever work," I said.
"Try it," she urged.
When I got home instead of running up to my room the way I usually did, I went to Dad's "office." That's what he called the room where he kept his computer.
"Yes?" he answered. He was obviously still mad at me.
"Can we talk?" I asked.
"What about? The fact that you've been misbehaving lately?" he snapped.
"Dad, I want to have a real relationship with you but it's impossible if we don't trust each other. Yes, I've made mistakes, but so does everyone else. I want you to trust me and I want to be able to trust you. I don't want to live in fear."
"The is the only way I know how--if you have a problem with that you can move out."
"I don't want to move out," I said. "That's not what families do. I want a relationship and I'll do whatever it takes. I'll come home half an hour before my curfew, I'll wash a monstrous load of dishes by hand and with no help whatsoever--I'll do anything."
"Whatever," he muttered. I'd lost him and I knew it
All that week I worked hard: I did all my homework (I got an A+ in Mr. Williams's calc test, which made him stop and read my name twice to make sure he'd handed me the right test), I washed half the dishes, I took out the garbage twice, I made my bed... In short, I was a model daughter. Mom was impressed, but Dad wasn't. Naturally.
"Why didn't you get A's in your other classes?" he asked. "I see you got a B+ on that History report--you love history."
"Dad, I almost failed calc two semesters in a row--aren't you happy for me?" I asked.
"Well, there," I said in a tone that said the discussion was over.
As for Mom, she decided to treat me to a girls' night out at the local family-run Italian restaurant.
On the way I brought up the subject of Dad.
"He doesn't accept anything but the very best," I said. "And I understand that--he want the best for me. But sometimes it's too much. If I were to get A's in everything I wouldn't have time to breathe. He's talked about me applying to McGill or Dalhousie next year but I don't want to go to either one. I'd rather go to a small school like Mount Allison. But when I brought it up he told me that the only way to get a good education is to go to a big, extremely expensive one. I wouldn't be surprised if he's looked at some of the Ivy League schools."
"That's the way your father has always been," Mom replied. "He has never been very successful--as you know I'm the one who earns the big bucks in the family. So he wants you to succeed, which is why he's so hard on you. And in the process he has unintentionally distanced himself from you to the point that he can come off as a monster."
"But Dad started to distance himself when I entered puberty," I said. "It's been downhill since then."
"When you really started to grow up he started putting more pressure on you to succeed. I saw it, too. I tried to talk with him about it but he did every short of putting his fingers in his ears and singing Beethoven's Ode to Joy at the top of his lungs. And you know how bad a singer he is."
We both giggled.
As we waited for our food to arrive (minestrone for Mom, lasagna for me, and Cokes for both of us) we tried to discuss more light-hearted subjects: where to go on our annual March Break road trip (we were trying to decide between Halifax and Cape Breton), whether Mom should get her hair cut really short (I said NO and she said yes), and whether to rent Ever After.
But the conversation kept coming back to Dad and my struggles to build a good relationship with him.
"I'd suggest that you try to avoid sounding like you're attacking him," Mom said. "He'll just close up and you won't get anywhere. I'll try talking to him this weekend if you'd like."
After we got back Mom headed to the den to chat with Dad and I went upstairs to email Erica.
Mom's talking with Dad right now.
How about if we catch a movie or something on Saturday? Maybe we could take the bus to Sydney. I'm still in celebration mode--I've never gotten anything higher than a C in calc before. You could bring Brian and Matt, too. Maybe we could try and broaden their minds and force them to go the Met simulcast that's playing a the Empire. I swear those guys don't know anything outside of punk, rap, and hip-hop. LOL
As I hit 'send' I could hear Mom's and Dad's voices rising--especially Mom's.
"You are so stubborn," Mom was saying. "You and Denise don't get along but you're just going to sit there on your ass and not do anything about it? Geez, Kevin--at least listen to the girl! She loves you dearly and longs for the days when you two would hang out together."
Silently I was cheering Mom on--she was backing Dad into a corner.
Afterward, Dad came up to my room where I was researching emperor penguins for a new assignment (a ten-page report on the student's bird of choice).
"Denise," he said, "can we, um, talk?" He looked so miserable that I had to swallow hard before replying, "sure, Dad. Sit down."
"Emperor penguins, eh? Interesting choice," he said. "Denise, this isn't easy for me to say--I'm not good at admitting when I'm wrong--but I know we haven't been very close in the last few years and what your mom said just now made me stop and think about what I've done."
"I forgive you," I replied. "Dad, what I want more than anything--more than my driver's license--is for us to have a real relationship. I go around feeling as though I'm not perfect enough for you. When you barely acknowledged the hard work I put into getting that A+ this week I was hurt."
"How about if I join you and your mom and we go skating over in Cape Breton during March Break? I can teach you how to skate the Cape Breton way since I know you've wanted to try it for years. And it'll be just us--just you and your old man. I'll see about getting my skates sharpened and get you some speed-skates..."
Dad walked off, still muttering about preparations for our trip. So it was decided, then: all three of us were going to Cape Breton.
Over the next few weeks Dad did try to mend the rift. One day, even though it was well below zero Celsius, he brought home a carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream, our favourite flavour, and ice cream cones and we chatted about everything from what he was like as a kid growing up in Dartmouth to my latest assignments at school.
One Saturday I was shaken awake far earlier than I would've liked.
"Get up," Dad said as he thrust a bowl of corn flakes into my hand along with a far-too-strong cup of coffee.
"Wha-what?" I sputtered as I tried to wake up. "What time is it?"
"We're going skating and it's seven-thirty," he replied matter-of-factly as I tried to eat the now-mushy flakes and drink the coffee, which burned in more ways than one.
Dad had the decency to leave me alone while I got dressed, and when I thumped down the stairs he was waiting for me.
"I got you a pair of skates--I hope they're the right size," he said as he helped me put on my coat, something he hadn't done since I was little.
As we drove to the rink we talked about university, where I'd like to go, and what I hoped to major in. He still wanted me to go to a large school, but I argued good-naturdly that I wanted to go to his alma mater, Mount Allison.
"Why do you want to go to a small school?" he asked. "When I went there I felt claustrophobic."
"I'll get more individual attention at a smaller university," I replied. I'd feel lost in a big school like McGill. Plus, McGill's all the way over in Quebec and I don't want to be that far away from my family--I love you guys too much."
Dad looked over at me and smiled.
When we reached the rink we were two of the first people there and as we laced up our skates Dad waved to several people who came in and chatted with the regulars. Dad wasn't in that group but he knew just about everyone in town.
"You ready?" he asked me. "Do the skates fit okay?"
"I think so," I replied as I stood up.
It had been years since I'd skated, but as I stepped out onto the ice somehow my body remembered what to do. I took a lap around the rink and as I came back to where I'd started Dad caught up with me.
We chatted some more as we skated 'round and 'round, and I got used to my new skates.
"Tell me about the first time you met Mom," I said. "It was in a skating rink, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was," Dad replied. "It was during March Break and we were both spending it in Sydney. She was going too fast and we collided and fell. Fortunately we didn't take anyone else down with us. A while later we met up as we got hot chocolate and we got to talking. One thing led to another and by the time we left, Sara had asked me out to go skating again in two days. Five years later we got married."
"That's so romantic, Dad," I sighed.
"Yeah, well..." he muttered, embarrassed. "So how about you? Seen any boys you like?"
"Nah," I replied. "They're all dweebs who wear their jeans so low their underwear shows, which is so gross! Who came up with that stupid 'look'?" I made ditto gestures with my fingers. "I've seen the photos and back in your day guys dressed so much better. I love the hippie look."
"Well, that's one area where we can find common ground," Dad said. "When I see boys wearing their jeans like that I want to grab those pants and give them a good yank upwards."
I giggled. Giggling turned to laughing, and before I knew what had happened I had landed on the ice, butt first.
"Are you okay?" He asked as I sat there laughing harder than ever.
"I'm fine!" I finally gasped. "I'd forgotten how wonderful your sense of humour is."
"Well, thank you," he said. "That was one of the things that made your mom fall in love with me."
We skated for a couple more hours and then headed home, talking and laughing the whole way.
When Mom opened the door her eyes got as big as dinner plates and her eyebrows disappeared into her hair when she saw us laughing together on the front step.
"Wow!" she finally managed to stammer. "I thought you two were enemies."
"It turns out Dad has a very good sense of humour," I replied.
As Dad and I defrosted in front of the fire, we told Mom about our day together. She blushed when Dad told her that he'd told me the story of how they'd met.
"Well," Mom said when Dad and I finally stopped talking for two seconds, "I'm glad you had such a good day together. You guys must be hungry: I've got some chilli simmering on the stove."
Hearing about the chilli made me realize that I was in fact very hungry. Dad must've been, too, because when Mom put a big bowl in front of each of us we dove in and finished every drop of it in no time. The we asked for seconds.
Afterwards Dad and I played a game of chess (I won) and watched a couple of I Love Lucy re-runs.
When I finally went to bed, he pulled me to him and gave me a great big hug and kiss that made me want to cry with happiness.
"I enjoyed this day and I hope you did, too," Dad said.
"I enjoyed every minute," I replied. "Even waking up ridiculously early was rather fun for once." I giggled and Dad laughed with me.
The next morning he and I had breakfast together and decided to have another day of "just us." So after he picked up the Sunday paper from the doorstep, that's exactly what we did: we read the headlines together, we read the comics together (we're both fans of Shoe), we played two more games of chess (we each won a game)...
Everything went fine until that afternoon, when Dad asked me to do the dishes that had been piling up since that morning.
"How about we do them together?" I suggested.
"No," he replied, "you do them. Besides, you didn't do them this morning."
"So what am I--a slave?" I shot back.
"Hey!" he said, his voice rising as well. I told you to do them. So do them--now!" He glared at me.
As I washed Mt. Dishes, I thought about what we'd said. How could things have deteriorated so quickly? I knew that no relationship was perfect: Erica and I argued every now and then, as did Mom and I. But my arguments with Dad were something else: when we argued, we really argued--usually about trivial things like dishes (though breaking curfew was a fairly serious crime).
Just as I was letting the water out of the sink, Dad appeared beside me.
"I really blew it," he said. "And I'm sorry. I shouldn't get so worked up about the dishes. Yes, they have to be done, but I always make that chore into something bigger. To make it up to you, how about if I dry these?"
"Sure, Dad," I said. "I'll help." And together we dried the stack and put them away.
"How can I make it up to you?" he asked. "I've spent all these years asking for more out of you and pushing you past what you are capable of, and I want to show you that I appreciate you. As Mister Rogers said, 'I like you exactly the way you are.' And I do, and I want to show you that. Yes, I will continue to push you, but when it gets to be too much, just tell me and I'll back off. And if you want to go to Mount A, I'll support you and help you to get accepted to the school of your dreams."