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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Taking A Walk Down Memory Lane In My Daughters' Shoes

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor

Striking a familiar pose in front of her first elementary school during a recent walk with Mom and Dad.

My sophomore year of high school was, to say the least, chaotic.


Late in the fall of 1985, my sister and I had moved out of our aunt’s house, where we had been since our parents’ split the year before. Due to circumstances not worth rehashing here, it was no longer safe for us there, so our mom rented us a townhouse not far from school and the house where she had been living with our soon-to-be stepdad. My sister, who was now a senior, spent most days and nights at her boyfriend’s house.


That winter, I broke my pitching arm and spent two months writing with my left hand, including all my homework and essay tests. Cast removal followed by weeks of rehab with the school trainer at the start of February workouts ensured I would be ready to pitch that spring.


I was 15 going on 16 and, essentially, lived alone. My friends and I had a place to hang out, “safe” from the watchful eyes of our parents. With my learner’s permit and access to a junky car, I had plenty of freedom. And I had just begun dating a wonderful girl, who I would put through more drama over the next 8 years than anyone ever deserved.


It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.


Neither of my parents were around much for me to talk to them about everything that was going on around or inside me. That burden, unfortunately for her, usually fell to my even-younger girlfriend. I owe her a huge debt of gratitude. At the time, it didn't much bother me that my father was out of touch. It felt liberating and went a long way in helping preserve my self esteem. On the other hand, only getting to see my mom a few times during the week was more difficult to ignore.


Almost 40 years later, I don’t remember every detail of every event, good or bad, but I do remember how it felt to blindly navigate relationships (with family, friends, teachers, coaches, and classmates), strive for excellence in the classroom and on the field, battle back from injuries and make the team, test limits, juggle priorities, accept or avoid responsibilities, and, most of all, search for a true sense of who I was. I remember how it felt to do these things mostly on my own.


With Dad as her co-pilot, hoping 15 can avoid the bigger potholes and limit wrong turns.

Needless to say, my results were mixed. But all things considered, I think I turned out all right. If nothing else, those teen years helped inform my parenting approach enough to know I would never put my own kids through similar circumstances.


I've had good reason to be touring this particularly vivid stretch of Memory Lane lately. You see, my 15-year-old is entering the same chaotic phase of her high school life. While the academic landscape has changed and her challenges, interests, and activities are much different than mine were at her age, the emotions and chances of becoming overwhelmed by all of it are the same. My next challenge as a dad will be to remain the same reliable and trusted resource my daughters deserve and have known since birth, as they both face new opportunities, feelings, commitments, and life decisions as teenagers.


By sharing the experience and perspective I’ve earned through my many missteps and (occasional) successes when I was their age, I hope I can make a difference. But how can I share all this crucial “dad knowledge” with my daughters in a way that avoids the eyerolls or, worse, complete kid shutdown? Good news is there is no "trick." The answer is, as usual, to be there and be a better listener.


I try not to be a micro-managing dad and I don’t aim to solve all my kids' problems for them. I let my girls know they can talk to me about anything that’s on their minds, and I will listen without judgement. So far, I think I’ve been true to my word (although a judgmental word may pop into my head – if not out of my mouth – on occasion). I also don’t want to be the kind of parent who tells their kids what to do and/or how to do it. I’d rather ask them questions and get them thinking of their own solutions. Of course, if they ask for my help, opinion, or advice, I’m happy to give it.


I'd be lying if I said my daughters always come to me, or even their mom, whenever something is bothering them. But I've gotten pretty good at identifying when something is up. I greet them when they come through the door from school. I ask open-ended questions as much as possible and then listen to what they say, how they say it, and what they don't say. Even if we don't have long conversations every day, just by being around and accessible, I tend to have a good read on their moods and body language. That knowledge helps me know if and when to investigate a situation further. I won't force them to talk, but I will ask a careful question or two, if only to let them know I'm ready to talk when they are.


And I'm also quick to offer a hug. Something my kids will never have to do is work for my love and attention.


No matter what bumps my daughters will face on their road to graduation – hard decisions, academic struggles, broken hearts, painful injuries, parallel parking – they know their mom and dad love them and are going to be there for them.


Knowing that my kids have both their parents actively engaged in their lives every day is just one of the many reasons I'm confident my girls will be all right. Just like their dad.


 

Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, part-time driving instructor, Editor of the Daddying blog, and Director of Communications for DCG and D3F. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.


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