My daughter is crying, tears coming from each eye like it’s a race to her chin. She hiccups a little when she tries to catch her breath. As a father, I feel that I have sufficiently done my job. I’m a good dad.
Little Hoss has her first cell phone.
Is 11 too young? I don’t know. I’ve been fighting this for at least two years. There was a time I was of the opinion that “You aren’t getting a phone until you are at least 16 and engaged to a nice young boy who requires no dowry.” My wife thought that was too harsh. So fine, I switched my opinion. We could marry her to the church.
“Honey, you are not religious. Like, at all.”
“Quiet woman! I’m making fatherly decisions!”
Those were some pretty rough conversations. She’s 11 though! I mean 11! She’s at that age where she still likes to snuggle with me on the couch. Little Hoss will occasionally play with Barbies if no one is looking and her toddler brother is with her. She still calls me “Daddy.” Not “Dad” – “Daddy.”
She’s a little girl, my sweet pea, my destroyer of everything quiet. A phone is crazy talk, the thoughts of a loose father with loose morals. A man willing to thrust his daughter out into the world without any preparation at all.
But she’s a little girl who requires training bras. She goes to Girl Scouts and volleyball practice. She goes into the store and uses my debit card to grab a gallon of milk.
My sweet pea, my little girl who doesn’t snuggle with me on the couch as much as she used to. Little Hoss has built herself a life outside of me. She is starting to gain independence.
Fuck. She’s not a little girl anymore.
This all started when we were finally able — thank you, Jesus (see, I pray!) — to break away from our cell phone provider and switch to another carrier. When we did, because of a great deal they were having, Little Hoss got her very own phone. It was free and, like every responsible father, I could not turn down a good deal. Nor can I turn back time.
We gave her that first cell phone and she immediately left me.
The string between us cut with a text. She jumped on the couch and her fingers began moving faster than a court stenographer’s. She would send me a text: “Dad, what’s Aunt Shell’s number?” I would text back. “Dad, do you have my cousins’ numbers?” I would send them to her. She is out in the world, the cold fucking world that preys on kids.
First off, how the hell does she even know how to work a cell phone? How does she know how to text?
“All my friends have phones, Dad. So do all my cousins.”
Thinking about putting my daughter into a convent has blinded me. I should have prepared her better to be out there. She has Google on her phone. There is internet on that thing. There are chat rooms and in one of them lurks Chris Hanson.
So my wife and I sat my daughter down that night and had “The Talk.” It used to be that having The Talk was just going over sex. Dad puts his pee pee in Mommy’s hoo-ha. They wrestle a bit and eventually your mother thanks God and it’s over. A baby eventually comes around.
But now, so much different than my own childhood, The Talk has to encompass a whole shitload of issues that I never had to. We have to go over inappropriate texts – both the bullying kind and the dick pic kind. We have to go over people in chat rooms, how some may not be the people they claim to be. That she should never go into chat rooms at all and, to be honest, I’m not sure they even still exist. But just in case, we have banned them.
We talked to her about digital predators in digital white vans promising treats and love if only she would meet them somewhere. My mind reeled. It ran from one nightmare scenario to another. And I laid it all at her feet.
I invited my wife to tell my daughter about some of the inappropriate things people have said to her. It’s a world where I have no experience. It’s rare that as a young teen anyone would say anything to me other than my dad telling me that masturbating should only be done in the bedroom, so put your junk away son. That was our talk. Uncomfortable but, hey, at least it was quick. (HA). Hearing my wife’s stories, I now have a whole list of people I have to track down and beat up. So Mr. Old Man from 1988 – I’m coming for you. We got a score to settle.
Catcalling, conniving, false promises, predators. All of it.
“Does that really happen, Dad?” she said. She called me Dad.
“Damn right. Not if you were in a convent, but it looks like that’s not an option for us. So, yes, that happens. Sometimes it happens a lot.” My tone was serious, more serious than I think she is used to from me. That’s when the sniffles started.
And to drive the point home, in my overprotective father mode, I pulled up Reddit. I went to a subreddit called /r/creepypms – which is not what I thought it was when I first saw the name of it. This is a place where women of many ages post all the creepy shit that people send them. I didn’t let my daughter read them of course. I just showed her how many there are, page after page after page.
That’s when the tears started.
So my daughter has her first cell phone. There are rules, of course. No texts without me knowing and only to people I know. No apps unless I know what they are and give approval. My wife and I have complete and total access to the phone whenever we deem it appropriate. All that and more so that at least we are sending her out into the world padded and with a safety net. And of course, if anyone from 20/20 ever contacts her, she should immediately come to me.
At the end of the talk, I sat down on the couch. Tired, exhausted, nightmares fresh behind my eyes. She came and sat next to me. She leaned over and put her head on my chest, I put my arm around her.
“People are weird, Daddy.”
“I know, sweet pea. Now show me what a Bitmoji is.”