Excerpts for But Dad! : A Survival Guide for Single Fathers of Tween and Teen Daughters

But Dad!

A Survival Guide for Single Fathers of Tween and Teen Daughters
By Gretchen Gross Patricia Livingston


Copyright © 2012 Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4422-1267-1


CHAPTER 1  Can This Book Help You Raise Your Daughter?.....................1
CHAPTER 2  Divorce and the Other D—Deployment........................7
CHAPTER 3  If a Mother Has Died............................................27
CHAPTER 4  Tweens: The Golden Years........................................35
CHAPTER 5  The Teen Years ... Whatever!....................................63
CHAPTER 6  Adapting to Shared Custody......................................85
CHAPTER 7  Your Policy Statement...........................................93
CHAPTER 8  Dating..........................................................105
CHAPTER 9  Concerns, Crises, and Interventions.............................119
CHAPTER 10  Being a Great Dad..............................................153
About the Authors..........................................................175

Chapter One

Can This Book Help You Raise Your Daughter?

IT'S NOT a stretch to say that through the course of history, men have been flummoxed, perplexed, mystified, and completely confused by women. As a single dad of daughters who are about to enter or are smack dab in the middle of puberty, you feel like a Giant's outfielder during game 3 of the 1989 World Series. You've heard the small scraping sounds like nails on a chalkboard, felt the slight ground tremors. Like the Giants, the Athletics, and the thousands of fans in the stands, you know "it" is coming but don't yet know what "it" is or how much damage might be done. The ground underneath you is shifting.

Puberty is, at best, a hugely complex process for both boys and girls. The rate of change, and its meanings, has shifted for young women. Currently the age of onset of puberty hovers around ten years old. This means that internal hormonal shifts begin even earlier. The changes are biological, sexual, physical, emotional, and social. It's big stuff and the more any parent knows about it, the better. So here is one book, a single resource, that you can keep on your nightstand, in the garage, on the workbench, in your computer case, or wherever you want, ready whenever you need it, so you can be a prepared, have some questions answered, and be a great dad to your daughter.

And let's face it: this can be as rocky a time for moms and dads as it is for young girls. The better prepared you are, the easier this passage will be for both of you and any other close family members who live with you.

You can now, whenever you want and wherever you choose, tweak your fathering skills by flipping to the chapter of your choice. Imagine this. Within days, your daughters will start saying, "Gosh Dad, you're really growing and learning as a father! You're the best! I love it that you're learning more about me." The reason we said "imagine" is because that scenario will occur only in your imagination. If your daughter sees this book, she'll likely respond with something quite opposite. Something more along the lines of "That book just looks stupid, Dad. Why did you even buy it? Please don't even say the word cramps around me. That's disgusting. Don't think you'll find anything in that book that will work on me!" Teens don't think you can learn anything about them in any book. As the penguins in the movie Madagascar said, "Smile and nod, boys, smile and nod."

Here's what you won't find in this book: psychobabble (well, not too much), charts, or useless graphs. You won't need a degree in sociology, psychology, or developmental biology to get through these chapters. All you need is an interest in being the best dad possible to your daughter as she rocks and rolls through some of the more challenging days of her life.

You will find this a simple book with easy access to what you want to know. This is the Consumer's Digest on daughters, the playbook on puberty, the racing sheets on raising daughters. When you really need help, you can crack this book, find the chapter that answers your questions, and find out all you want and need to know on any given topic related to single parenting a young girl. It's just that easy. After feeling completely inept, as all parents do when dealing with preteen and teen daughters, you will: Step 1: curse under your breath, mad at yourself that you didn't see that argument or conversation coming, and you swear to do it better next time so you ... Step 2: pull this book off your bedside table and turn to the chapter dealing with the issue de jour, and you ... Step 3: read, learn, and say, "Why didn't someone tell me about this before? I won't make that mistake again." That's how you use this book.

Let's cut to the chase and talk about why you should take our word in any of this. A few weeks ago at a party, a male friend asked, "Why should a guy listen to two women tell him how to be a good dad? You've never been a dad. Isn't that like me telling you about childbirth?" This friend is a major in the military, has flown F-16s, has a significant intellect, and is now a pilot for a major airline. I said, "Mark, if I wanted to learn how to fly, I'd learn from someone like you. Someone who's been there, done that, and knows the details about how to stay in the air rather than crash and burn. I mean sure, I've been in a plane. I know to locate the emergency exits. Does that make me well prepared to head to the flight deck?" After puffing up his chest a bit from all the compliments, he paused. Mark knows his stuff. I'd feel safe in a plane with him at the stick. "So follow me, Mark. If you needed to know about cramps, tampons, mood swings, dating boys, middle school girl cliques, throwing a great slumber party, and when is it okay to start to wear makeup, who would you ask?" He paused for a moment, looked thoughtful, then responded, "Got it. Want a beer?" Mark and his wife have four sons. His wife, Penny, was smiling and shaking her head. "Mark, when someone needed to talk to Geoff about his voice cracking, we sent you in. When Chris needed some support after he got hurt and couldn't play ball, when he thought his world had ended, who talked to him night after night? There's a lot I can do as a mom, but we both know there's stuff you just know better. And yeah, if you weren't home, or were deployed, I'd do it. But I'd do it with your help." Mark went back to his discussion about his deep desire to buy a Porsche 911 for his impending midlife crisis, while Penny and I smiled and shook our heads. There you have it. The reason why we wrote this book is because women have the inside track on girl stuff. We know the secrets. We've got the 411 on pads, tampons, cramps, broken girl hearts, zit creams, and shaving legs, why a girl might miss her mom and what to do about it, eating disorders, and what to say about dating besides, "I know what boys want, honey, and you can't go out with him!"

Pat and I have both raised daughters and co-parented with exes. So we have a sense of what men know, want to know, and what they think they know but need some help with. Because we've had to, women know how to get blood stains out of bed sheets, how to talk to daughters about dating and sex, and how to help her pick out clothes that are age appropriate for that upcoming bar mitzvah. We know the difference between hormonal mood swings and bad behavior. We understand the complexities (and really, they are complexities) between mini- and maxi-pads, and maxi-pads with wings, and which are the most comfortable under leggings.

The more you understand about girls in this age group, what they want, what they need, what's going on, what they aren't telling you, and what you would rather not ask your ex, your mom, or the new woman you're dating, the better father you'll be and the more prepared you'll be for the changes of adolescence.

As parents, we're all at wit's end more often than we care to admit. When we want some answers, we don't want to read through chapters and chapters on Oedipal issues in adolescence or family dynamics as they affect only children. We want quick, clean information from someone we trust, and can maybe laugh along with. That's why this book is chock full of info, short on theory, and long on kitchen table wisdom with a dash of necessary humor. We include references if you want to read more deeply into topics. But we also want to just give you the "quick and simple" so you have fewer moments of feeling like you're flopping around on the deck as your teen daughter walks away. So let's talk about you for a minute.

Why Fathers Matter So Much

Have you noticed that there are plenty of books about mothers and daughters? In her book Mothers and Daughters during Adolescence, Teri Apter writes, "The strange, disturbing, and sad picture seems to be that during the daughter's adolescence, the distance between them increases." Sadly, the "them" she talks about is fathers and daughters. On its own, this is a distressing observation. When you think about this from the perspective of single fatherhood, it's awful. Since when did fathers get marginalized, pushed off to the side, rendered invisible? Ironically, if you do happen to be a research hound, you'll find the data on the importance of fathers. Sadly, this information has not leaked into the everyday life as much as it should. The truth is dads are incredibly important to the development of healthy daughters. Dads' level of involvement with their daughters is positively correlated to their daughter's level of success at work and their overall sense of comfort and mastery of the world around them. That sounds pretty essential to us. You are important. As a single dad, your time with your daughter is more important than ever.

Please don't think we're suggesting you become mothers, because we're not. Here's what we know about fathers and their patterns of interacting with their children. Fathers are more involved with the physical play and activities of both sons and daughters. You're more likely to coach their teams, take them skiing, toss a ball around. Your activities are more often located outside the house and in outdoor activities. You understand that in playing sports, the skill of risk taking—pushing oneself beyond the same old, same old—is honed. You are less worried about injury. If you've ever watched a mother and father with a toddler, you'll notice things. A mother monitors the child more closely and stays closer. She speaks softer and her movements are slower. In swoops Dad. He picks up the toddler while on a run, bustles her under his arm like a sack of flower, and she is laughing her head off. He picks up speed and whirls her around while they both laugh. Mom, meanwhile, is holding her hand on her mouth, waiting for someone to fall and start crying. Likewise, children interact differently with their dads. In Doucet's article, one dad is quoted as saying, "They climb all over me! I am the play structure!" We know we do it differently, moms and dads. And both of us bring important things to the table. When we are under the same roof and getting along well, there is a balance. The kids get both. But when a family divorces or when a mom dies, much falls on the parent the kids are with, when they're with them.

Male ways of connecting are also famously different. Maybe you are from Mars, but we sure as heck are not from Venus. We do, however, generally want to talk more, connect more, process more, and it's all about the relationship. Men, as we know, move to solve problems as quickly as possible. You value social hierarchy and are usually perfectly content to compete to win, whether it's in the sales force, on the golf course, or with your kids when you're tossing a ball around. So when a teen girl, in the middle of some sort of struggle, is with her dad and wants some help, the interaction might go something like this:

Daughter: Dad, I have a problem.

Dad: What's that, sweetie?

Daughter: I've got four projects due this week and I won't get them all done on time. I want to keep my grades up. I'm just worried.

Dad: No problem. Let's just sit with a calendar and set up a schedule. Okay, so tomorrow night you don't have soccer practice so you can work on the science stuff for three hours. You should be able to get it done in that time. So see, that's Monday!

Daughter: Yeah, Dad, I get that. I'm just worried.

Dad: No need to be worried, honey! Tuesday, let's look at Tuesday, How much time do you have to work on it on Tuesday?

Daughter: No, Dad. You're not listening. I'm really worried about getting this done.

And so on and so on and so on. You've got a clear path to a solution, but she doesn't seem to see that. In fact, she seems to keep getting more emotional and getting more worried. In this situation and possibly more like it, you're doing what men do well. You're providing a solution to a problem. She wants you to think like her and offer some comfort, a calm ear, and some reassurance. In short, she craves connection. She probably already has some level of solution worked up in her head, so she's frustrated that you are focusing on that. That's not what's important. What's important is that you know she's nervous. She feels shaky and wants someone to lean on. You want to take her distress away and you have a darn good strategy to help her accomplish those goals, but she's not happy with that. And maybe this escalates even more. Maybe she starts to cry and leaves the kitchen table where you were camped out and says, "You just don't get it, Dad. You just don't get it!"

Huh? You got it and you offered help. What's up with her? Must be hormonal. Aw geeze, that again? It's so much easier with boys. And it just may be easier because you speak the same language, and look for the same things. Much like moms and daughters. The internal music is similar so we know the steps, or at least the dance we're dancing in any particular moment.


Excerpted from But Dad! by Gretchen Gross Patricia Livingston Copyright © 2012 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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