Written June 14, 2011
“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”I was startled out of a deep sleep by my six-month-old daughter who was hungry, gassy or maybe wondering what life had in store for her over the next 15 years.
My six-month-old daughter was startled out of a deep sleep by her forty-something-year-old father who wasn’t hungry or gassy but was definitely wondering what life had in store for him 15 years from now raising a teen-aged daughter!
As my wife and I introduced Mercedes Grace Tijerino to a throng of admirers, I was perplexed by the nature of the plaudits. “She’s going to be stunning!” I politely mustered a thank you in response. “Es preciosa!” I graciously nodded a thank you, in Spanish, and forced a smile. “Look at those eyes! You’re going to be in big trouble!” I impolitely rolled my eyes and grumbled that she’s currently being fitted for a burka that she’ll wear through college.
As we drove home from the gathering I took careful aim at my dazzling wife and shot, “It’s your fault!”
Yes, Mercedes Grace indeed took after her attractive, ambitious, smart and charming mother further benefited from what few positive features I passed on through my dubious DNA. Impossibly long paintbrush eye lashes, smooth brown skin and a luxurious head of jet-black hair mean nothing on a middle-aged man but will mean trouble on the father of a young woman. Especially a Latino father.
Coming to grips with fatherhood has been a difficult transition. Not the two-hour wake-up calls, perpetually dirty diapers and playing male nurse to my heroic wife as she breastfed after months on bed-rest – that part of fatherhood has been a pleasure and blessing that even a verbose writer like me can’t put into words. I truly see clear evidence of God as I look into my daughter’s face and wife’s sacrifice. What is difficult is that I can’t watch coming-of-age movies anymore. Teenage Musical is all about teen romance. Lindsay Lohan’s behavior frightens me more than threat of a bird-flu pandemic. I even find myself staring down raucous teen-aged boys in the mall the way President Bush stares down Al Quaeda, wanting to eradicate them completely yet miffed by the sheer number of them that continue to be bred by some sick mastermind.
So I turned to my mentor and good friend, an avuncular Cuban-Irishman (calls himself Cubish “torn between lighting a fuse or a cigar” as he puts it) who in addition to a stand-up guy, is a stand-up comedian moonlighting as a nationally-renowned medical doctor. I went to Dr. Joe because his marriage had been a model and his daughter exactly what I want my daughter to be – independent, smart, confident, and clearly doesn’t suffer sophomoronic male antics. However, given his penchant for a one-liner, I expected to be pummeled with jokes but instead was met with a serious tone as he delivered the most sensitive, salient advice I’d heard on the topic.
“Whether you know if or not, you will be setting an example for your daughter, no matter what age she is, every single day with how you treat your wife,” he stated and punctuated with a penetrating glare. “Treat your wife with respect in every way. Obviously by not raising your voice, cheating or name-calling, but more subtly by paying attention when she speaks to you, helping with household chores, and never talking down to her. Inherently, whether your daughter is six-weeks, six-months, six years or 16 years, your actions will dictate how she will expect to be treated by men for the rest of her life.”
Fortunately, I’ve always been respectful of women, especially my wife, but the point was clear. A bar of behavior will be set and raised by my actions. “Men who are most fearful of their daughters being mistreated by men are simply projecting their treatment of women.” He was right. The worst offenders are the most fearful. The good doctor went on, “Take your daughter on dates to the ice-cream store, open doors for her, pull out the chair when she sits, ask her about her day and demonstrate the behavior she should expect and require from males for the rest of her life.”
Relieved after receiving my papi prescription from Dr. Joe, I rushed home where I shaved, showered, dressed up and prepared to take my little girl on her very first date. “Where are you two going?” my wife asked, with a puzzled smile.
“On a date,” I replied as I carried my Mercedes Grace, who was wearing one of those little Latino girl prom dresses sold at the mercado in shrink wrap like a true Latina. As I opened the front door, I turned back and startled my wife with a long, purposeful embrace and added, “I hope she turns out just like her mami.”