Written by the late James R. May. Originally published in the Oologah Lake Leader, circa 1993.
I am a little older than my two sisters but I refer to them as my older sisters. It is not chronologically accurate but it is my not-so-subconscious “get back” for all the times that they may have ganged up on me when we were children. They more than get even at family gatherings by referring to me as our parents’ “only child.” It is their get back because I’m the one that got the only natural curly hair in the family. Life is not fair. They could have saved hundreds of dollars with only a little natural curl while to me it has been a bother.
Before you think I’m a little overly smug, I want you to know that life has a way of evening things out. In my adult years, I have succeeded in raising two only children of my own. When your kids are 15 years apart, they at least seem to be “only” children. At one memorable point I had one daughter crying for a bottle and one crying for the car keys.
One daughter grew up in the big city and knows very well that there is life outside of small town Oklahoma. She is well-read, well-traveled, and when given the choice between big city and small town life, she opted for working in the city and living in the country. She has chosen the best of both worlds.
The youngest daughter came to live in the small town while still wearing three-cornered pants. It has been my parental concern that while she has been able to enjoy life in small town America, she needs to know that there is much, much more to choose from. I have insisted that she read. Therein lies nearly all knowledge. She has been surrounded by books and they have been an important part of her life.
Now my youngest has reached they point in her young life that she has discovered the bane of every father. She has discovered boys. “Dressing for success” is what it is called in adults. I think it is “dressing to impress” if you are a teenaged girl.
Being the stodgy father of a teenaged daughter, I am acutely aware that there are boys out there, but I try not to dwell on it. Hair spray, perfume, the latest in clothes, the telephone that never drops below body temperature, the signs are all there. I consider it my duty to reinforce my earlier lessons there that are things far more important than who is seen with whom in the halls of the local high school. There is really life between phone calls. In keeping with my parental obligations I encourage, nay, require my youngest to continue a certain amount of serious reading.
I’ve been known to cajole and am not above the occasional bribe to ensure that good books and classical music be sampled. My Autumn child cringes ever so politely when I insist that a classic movie be included in the weekend entertainment. The rewarding thing is when she samples something she considers terribly old-fashioned and even a little geeky and then finds to her great surprise that she likes it.‘
Whenever possible, I work in a little history so that she can see that the whole world does not really center around the next dance. It is a long way from teenage social obligations to the political reasons for the precipitation of World War One. It is a strain for both of us but on occasions I have succeeded in bridging such an enormous chasm. While driving to school the other morning, I was feeling that I had perhaps carried the liberal arts lectures a tad too far. Feeling that when in doubt, be honest, asked my daughter if she thought that old dad was a little strange when he talked about history, music, politics and things similar ilk. “Oh no, Dad. I think you are interesting.”
That was a great load off my parental mind.
A few days later, she seemed a little bored with too many holidays and we struck up a conversation about her Literature class. I seized the opportunity and in a flash was reading to her from Isaac Asimov’s Annotated Shakespeare. Soon I was waxing eloquently about the witches scene from MacBeth. Just as I was explaining about ‘eye of newt’, I was interrupted. “Dad, do you remember the other morning when I told you that I didn’t think you were weird? Would it hurt your feelings if I changed my mind?”
I wonder what it would have been like if I had had more than two “only” children?