I have a good friend whom I’ve known forever. We grew up on the same street, were “best friends” when people had exactly one best friend apiece, and have stayed friends through marriages, kids, moves, sickness and health.
Oh, but I remember the fights. Occasionally, one of us would say something to the other, or do something, or do something with another girl, or not do something with another girl, and a fight would ensue. Days would pass where we’d snub each other in the neighborhood or shoot dirty looks across the street. Those fights were agony. I can still remember the time I wrote a long note of apology, spelling out my contrition as only a 12-year-old can. I took it to my friend’s house and handed it to her. She went inside and read it while I waited miserably on her doorstep. Finally, she returned and opened the door. “Come on in,” she said.
Life was good again.
I haven’t dwelled on these fights for a long time, mostly because it’s hard to believe that we ever had these types of fights. This friend is one of my dearest friends, and the idea of fighting her seems preposterous. But it was all too real when we were 12. As my adult girlfriends know, girls go crazy as they near adolescence. They trade friends like toddlers trade a cold virus in preschool. They agonize over little comments and throw themselves sobbing onto their bed for minor transgressions. On occasion (cough cough) they’ll break a bedroom mirror because their hair doesn’t look perfect.
Boys don’t have these particular growing pains. If two boys disagree, they either hit each other or say, “Dude, shut up,” and the fight is over.
Which makes female adolescence pure hell on dads. One of my mom friends and I were commiserating at how frustrated our husbands get over what we know is normal girl behavior. She mentioned a dinner one evening where Dad made an innocent comment that caused his daughter to burst into tears. He threw up his hands and said, “What did I do to deserve this?” My friend looked at him and said, “God has blessed you with girls. Deal with it.”
I think we need to cut Dads a break, however. Even those who grew up with sisters can’t appreciate the turmoil of female adolescence. So I offer this cheat sheet of sorts to help dads survive these years and remain their girls’ No. 1 man:
1. Hormones stink. Yes, literally your little angel is going to start smelling ripe when she’s been playing outside. But the hormonal upheaval during adolescence can turn a mood from sour to happy to depressed to exhilarated within 4.2 seconds. Want proof? Think of how your wife acted when she was pregnant. Yeah, it’s that sort of hormonal upheaval.
2. Girls are nasty. The phrase “Mean Girls” was coined for a reason. Your baby girl finds this out all too quickly, when the girls who were nice in grade school suddenly seem intent on making her life a living heck in middle school. Nothing feels secure at this age, especially friendships. You may notice that “best friends” change as often as favorite outfits. Again, normal. Maddening, but normal.
3. Body image goes haywire. For the love of all that is good and holy, do NOT say anything about your daughter’s body, unless you’re telling her she looks good. Do NOT joke about a spare tire or even make a remark about putting back that cookie, unless you want to hear stomping, followed by a slamming door, followed by sobbing.
4. Ditto on “hair image.” You know those curls that were so darling on your 3-year-old’s head? She’s going to hate them. She’s going to long for pin straight hair. If your baby girl was blessed with pin straight hair, she’s going to spend a half hour each morning adding curls with a curling iron. Again, do NOT make jokes. Do NOT say, “Why don’t you just let it air dry?” You don’t understand, Dad. Nobody under the age of 18 understands.
5. Girls need their Dads. Even when they’re being ugly and mean, they need to know that there’s one man in the world who will love them unconditionally. I know this is asking a lot, especially when you’re getting the eye rolls and muttered comments when you dare to suggest that she spend a little more time on homework and less time complaining about how she never has anything to wear. Look for the moments when you click, Dad. Give her a hug. Give her some love. Because if you don’t – and this scares the heck out of Moms who’ve watched our friends go down this path – they’re going to look for that love somewhere else.
6. They do grow out of it. Sure, we women still have our temperamental moments. But eventually, most women get comfortable in their own skins, and they form friendships that they’ll keep for the rest of their lives, if they’re lucky. And if they're really lucky, they're going to realize that they have a cool Dad who hung on for the ride. Hang in there, Dads. It’s going to be a heck of a trip.