Can a parent force his teenager to have fun if she doesn’t want to?
I’m asking for a friend.
As in, you go upstairs to your daughter’s room on a calm, quiet Saturday morning, and you knock on her door in a way that’s totally casual — not at all aggressive or mean or in a way that would provoke the following response from the other side of the door:
Imagine you answer such a vitriolic outburst with a suggestion, presented in a meek, tentative tone like if one of those kind-faced, adorable ring-tailed lemurs could talk. Imagine your voice is that of a sweet lemur, asking gently:
“Um … I was just wondering if maybe you would enjoy going ice skating this afternoon? For fun?”
Then imagine the silence that follows.
A thick, viscous silence that oozes under the door. The kind of toxic pause that makes you want to take back whatever you just said and back away slowly.
But it’s too late. You’ve already put it out there, and you can’t take it back. You suggested doing something with your teenage daughter, something you know for a fact she enjoys doing. You didn’t just come up with this out of the blue. There’s history between you, her, ice skating, and fun.
After the silence — that awful silence — that eats away at your soul as you stand on the wrong side of the door, you hear a long drawn-out sigh. A sigh you’d hear from someone trying to exercise enormous patience with a person who is unbelievably, irretrievably stupid.
That sigh comes from your daughter. Because the stupid person is you, dad person.
No turning back from serious fun
You could just walk away. Pretend it didn’t happen. Maybe it wasn’t even you who said it! Maybe it was an alien intruder who does a great impression of you but who didn’t take the time to research the turbulent relationship between fathers and teenage daughters before invading Earth.
No. It was you, dad. You had a moment of naive optimism in which you thought to yourself, “It’s Saturday. People like to go out and have fun on Saturdays. Hey, I know! My daughter has fun when she skates! Let’s do that! YAY, plan!”
Stupid dad person.
All you can do now is wait out that exhale of hers that is now actually making the bedroom door in front of you rattle.
After the sigh, you are gifted with the following response: “I don’t think so.”
Is that it? Will there be a reason to turn down this innocent offer of an afternoon ice skating? Will you just be left hanging, never to know why — oh, why — your seemingly innocuous suggestion was summarily rejected?
For better or worse, you push the envelope.
You knock again and crack open the door. Just enough for a sliver of your face to be visible. You use your lemur voice: “Are you sure? I thought we could go just for an hour or so, just to get out of the house.”
She looks directly at the fraction of your eyeball peeking through the door. You feel the heat of her laser stare intensify as her eyebrow arches.
“Maybe I don’t feel like I need to get out of the house today.”
The kid is a wizard at arguments. She astounds you with her dance of carefully crafted logic.
But once you opened that bedroom door, mister, there’s no going back.
“But … you always say that on the weekends.”
“And you always assume it’s never true.”
Parry! Thrust! Guard! Ouch!
You try a new approach. “Listen,” you say, mustering some backbone. “We both know you can’t just stay in here all day on your computer.”
“Do we both know that? Because one of us doesn’t seem to.”
The breaking point
How about a whole new tactic?
“You know what? I’m projecting. You’re fine where you are. What I mean to say is, I need to get out of the house today and get a little exercise. I thought ice skating would be a good option. For me. So really, you’d be helping me out a lot if you came ice skating with me. You’d be doing me a favor.”
Wow, that eyebrow of hers can arch really high. “Tell you what,” she says. “You go skate and let me know how it was. You can close the door on your way out.”
This is bullshit, right? You’re not asking her to enlist in the army. You’re suggesting an hour or two of ice skating, for Chrissakes, just so she’ll log off of her computer for a little while. You yourself don’t even want to go ice skating. The only reason you even know how to ice skate in the first place is because she was obsessed with it when she was 7, and you enrolled her lessons (and bought her a shiny pair of skates and several adorable sparkly skating costumes for Christmas that year), and decided you that should also learn to skate as long as you guys were spending so much damn time at the rink.
That’s when you lose your temper just a wee bit.
You open the door all the way, stand in the room like Caesar Julius Baddassivus, hands on hips, and proclaim: “GET DRESSED, GET YOUR SKATES AND GET DOWNSTAIRS. WE’RE LEAVING IN TEN MINUTES.”
Her face freezes, then twists in outrage. How dare you? How dare you force her to do something fun! Something that, for a couple hours, would require her to log off social media and interact with the real, live, people? Something she loves to do, no less? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER PARENT ARE YOU?
You close the door, feeling like a complete asshole.
You think to yourself: What am I doing? Why not just let her stay up there if it’s all she wants to do on a Saturday? I could use the free time! I could go down to the corner microbrewery! I could watch a sport on a giant TV! Why does everything have to be so fucking Thunderdome all the time?
You take a couple minutes to breathe, to relax. Then you get your skates out of the hall closet.
Around and around we go
In 10 minutes, she comes downstairs, her own skates in hand. To her credit, she doesn’t stomp. She doesn’t say anything. Her face is blank with just the faintest flicker of OMG I can’t EVEN that you choose to ignore.
You stay calm even though it feels like wasted effort since you already blew it upstairs.
You drive the two of you to the rink, where you used to go once a week as recently as a couple months ago. Neither of you say a word. You get there, lace up your skates, and both of you step out onto the ice. It’s not too crowded. A few kids, a few adults, a few couples doing the cute, clumsy first-date thing. The sound system blasts ’80s playlist.
She takes off on the ice without looking back at you.
It’s OK. Give it a few laps.
After a few minutes of skating on your own, you sense your daughter glide up behind you. She taps you on the shoulder before quickly darting to your other side when you look. Just like she’s been doing since she was 7.
You look over your other shoulder and see her grinning like a doofus.
“You’re still the weirdest skater in the world,” she says like she always does.
“Just you wait until the next Winter Olympics. We’re gonna sweep the Father-Daughter Ice Dancing event,” you respond primly. As you always do.
She rolls her eyes, and then the two of you skate together for a while, doing all the same dumb fake poses you’ve been doing for years. You embarrassing her. Her laughing at you. You both occasionally linking arms. Or helping the other person skate backwards. Or playing tag.
Yeah, you’re basically vindicated. You’re not such an idiot dad after all — just keep it to yourself.
You don’t even mind that you’re going to have to go through this whole ordeal again the next time you suggest ice skating. (Clearly your teenage daughter has the same disease as that guy in the movie Memento, where he wakes up every day with no memory of anything that’s happened to him before.)
This might be what people mean when they talk about leaning in to parenting, maybe.
She’s a teenager. That means there are only so many Saturdays when the two of you will be going ice skating together after this. So for now, go ahead. Lean in. Force the fun. Take a few more turns around the rink with her. Enjoy them while you can.