By NICK CHILES
This past Valentine’s Day I had the pleasure of escorting two lovely ladies out on a date—and neither was my wife. Relax: They were my daughters, and I accompanied them to their elementary school’s annual Daddy-Daughter Valentine’s Day Dance. This was the second year the school put on the event and my girls and I were even more excited this year as the dance approached; I even picked out new dresses for them—hip, girly ensembles for the two. Once we got to the party, the girls and I quickly hit the dance floor, twisting and jumping to a string of Miley Cyrus-Justin Bieber-Jonas Brothers hits, with a few Michael Jackson songs thrown in so us dads wouldn’t feel too out of touch.
After we had been there for a little while, I started noticing something that I found all too disturbing—some of these little elementary school girls, none older than 11, were wearing high heels. I mean, HIGH heels. Not some cute little wedge from Stride Rite. Ten-year-old Mari, in her sensible flats, noticed it, too. (Just like she notices all the other fifth graders with cellphones—which she won’t be getting for at least another three years!). One little fifth grader was sporting stilettos that had to be five inches tall! She would be the one who was nailed to the same spot on the dance floor the whole night because she had no idea how to actually move in the shoes. And the one whose dad went down on his knees a little later to try to massage the pain out of her feet. That one, with shoes that wouldn’t look out of place on the pole down at the local booty bar. Now, I’m not trying to pass judgment on another parent’s decision-making…but what alarming state of psychosis would possess a parent to send a 10- or 11-year-old daughter out of the house in five-inch stilettos?
As I looked around the gym/dance floor, it occurred to me that what I was looking at was my competition over the next 10 years. The enemy. As my wife and I attempt to mold our girls into self-assured, confident, cool young ladies who respect their bodies and insist that everyone else do the same, these other girls represent the tide we’ll be swimming against—a peer group wholly intent on growing up way too fast, eager to dip into grown-up things way before they're grown. We all can identify the many wicked influences that push them into this precocious womanhood—the media, clothing manufacturers, music stars, Lil' Wayne, even clueless parents. I could easily see the social groups forming before my eyes—Mari and her homies were the smart girls, but over there were the fast girls, wearing inappropriate shoes, lipstick on their faces, already gathered together in mean little whispering cliques, pointing, snickering. Having successfully shepherded my son through high school, I'm quite familiar with the “negative influences” in boy world—the too-cool-for-school dudes who spent more time smoking weed and trolling for girls than doing the things that would get them somewhere. But right here in front of me were the “negative influences” of girl world that I would soon be battling.
I was unnerved.
Mari and Lila, oblivious to the dangers that lurked just beyond their doorstep, held my hands, gazed up into my face, laughed, smiled, giggled innocently. I had an urge to sweep them into my arms and run back home with them. Lock them in their rooms, slip their meals under the door. But ultimately that too might do more harm than good, going the other extreme and trying to stash them away from the world. (We all saw Carrie, right?) No, the world and those scary little girls will soon blow through our lives like gale-force winds. All I can do is equip my little girls with special powers that I hope will enable them to march through those winds, relatively unscathed. Daddy love, Daddy affection, Daddy pride, Daddy admiration. Those are the powers I can pass along.
So bring on adolescence. The Chiles family stands poised and ready for it.
(In the immortal words of the late Bernie Mac: Oh Lawd!)