Today my daughter turns 15.
One thing stands out. There is no going back to the day when she was daddy’s little girl.
Not when your little girl is 5-foot-8 and has a mind of her own.
She is looking forward.
She is looking out.
She is looking at boys.
Boys call day and night.
Boys ride their bikes over. Neither snow, nor sleet, nor the fury of Ice Storm ‘96 could keep them away.
This summer, through a bureaucratic snafu, some of these boys got driver’s licenses.
I think a nice mom in the family van has stopped by for a visit. Then I learn, in a panic, that a nice mom has lent the family van to a 16-year-old boy who has spent a considerable amount of his private time thinking about my daughter.
Thinking about my daughter in the family van.
Who knows, exactly, what 15-year-olds think?
For clues, I have asked my daughter.
“What are you thinking?” I say in my most non-threatening fatherly voice.
“Nothing,” she replies as if I were applying thumbscrews under a white-hot light bulb.
I know at 15 she is thinking and dreaming about a great deal. Some hint of her thoughts can be found inside the covers of Seventeen magazine, copies of which are strewn across the floor of her bedroom.
The other morning I ventured into that bedroom. Next to a well-worn pair of Doc Martens I found the February issue of Seventeen.
February was “the love issue.”
Topics in the special love issue include: “Does he like you? 7 ways to tell.” And “Quiz: Is he crushworthy?” And “How we fell in love; real couples talk.”
The region of the heart occupies a good portion of the mind at 15. Young women need good hearts. The 21st century will achingly long for strong women who can provide care, comfort and concern.
There was one other story pitched on the cover I hope my daughter, and other girls her age, managed to find. The headline read:”Playing it smart: Girls who refuse to act dumb.” It isn’t just a strong heart young women will need as they move toward 30, and 45, and 60.
Brains will matter more than ever.
In the next century, the great divide between opportunity and diminished hopes will hinge on knowledge. Sadly, I think too many 15-year-olds aren’t getting that message.
Here’s a clue from an old guy.
Being cool in the 21st century won’t have much to do with smoking cigarettes and piercing your navel.
Being cool will be knowing how to make your computer do tricks and how to speak to your business partners and neighbors in Spanish or Chinese. Young women with both good hearts and keen brains will rule.
But work must begin now, in high school, with the development of a self that honors not just good hair and a good heart, but what is percolating in between.
Thankfully, my daughter shows a glimmer of understanding about this balance. A few nights ago my daughter went to see “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre.
The songs inspired her. She dreams of hitting Broadway one day. I hope she does. She has a voice.
When Annie Oakley intentionally missed a target so the man in her life could win a sharpshooting contest, my daughter was outraged. Why would a girl do that? Why would she intentionally not do her best so a man could win?
Doing your best as a young woman sometimes means putting up with people who put down accomplishment. Accomplished 15-year-olds, I am learning, must perfect a variety of poses, costumes and phases.
One day a 15-year-old can strive to be an A student in math and score points with the parents. The next day a 15-year-old practices the art of keeping a guy’s attention with nothing more than a laugh into the receiver.
The problem is that a winning telephone personality is more easily accomplished and seems far more rewarding than struggling through calculus.
As a result, more than one girl in high school has opted to drop tough classes so she can work harder and spend more time on the phone. I think that is the wrong message and the wrong choice for girls.
I worry about girls who feel they must be average and aim low to be popular.
I share these worries with my daughter, even though she no longer is my little girl. She doesn’t listen much, and sees me more as a set of car keys and a checkbook.
So, my job now is to clear a path for her.
Out of her room and out of sight from her friends, I am left to hack away at the vines and false images that could pull her down.
The potential of her generation is awesome.
But girls, always remember two things that your fathers tried to teach you:
Hard work can be lonely.
Big dreams take guts to achieve.
, DataTimes MEMO: Chris Peck is the editor of The Spokesman-Review.
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