When I was in college, my father was so protective I thought he was a borderline psychotic.
I attended an all-women’s college (my own decision) and really didn’t give my parents much trouble. I was the oldest girl in the family and had a firstborn’s sense of responsibility. One summer night before my senior year, a handsome fellow who had recently graduated from college and held a very respectable job invited me to dinner. When he came to my house to pick me up, my dad introduced himself. Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, something about the fellow rubbed my dad the wrong way. I couldn’t see it because, quite honestly, the guy was really cute. My father asked what time I would be home. Yes, he reminded me, I was living at his home for the summer and that included a curfew. I told him that I would be home at midnight.
We went to a fancy restaurant and afterward went to another for dessert and drinks (the drinking age was eighteen back then). Needless to say, I was so enamored with my date that I forgot about the time. It was 12:30 a.m. All of a sudden, at this lovely, quiet restaurant, I heard my name called over the PA system, telling me that I had a phone call. I was mortified. I knew exactly who was calling. I was so embarrassed that I simple asked my date to drive me home. I was furious with my father. He was waiting for me at the front door with the porch lights on. My date walked me into the house. The poor guy needed to use the restroom, but before he could get there, my father told him he didn’t care for hte way he had kept me out so late, especially when he had known I was supposed to be home an hour earlier. Then he actually told the poor guy that he was no longer welcome in our home, because he had been disrespectful to me! My date was so upset he left without using the bathroom.
I was seeing red, poised to verbally duke it out with my dad. I was twenty years old, I told him, and fully capable of deciding when I should be home. I refused to be treated like an out-of-control adolescent girl. I yelled at him. He yelled back and let me know in no uncertain terms that I was in his home and he had every right to tell me when I had to be back. I didn’t speak to him for two days. I wasn’t as upset about the rules as I was embarrassed by being called at the restaurant, and, worse, to have my date kicked out of the house!
I went on a few more dates with the man (he never came back to the house; I met him out) and really thought he was wonderful. He was gracious, intelligent, and fun to be with. Also, he was very polite and, whatever my dad said, I thought he treated me with respect, and I liked that. One day, I dropped by his house unannounced. I felt very relaxed with him, and just felt like saying hello. When I knocked on the door, I was greeted by a gorgeous twenty-something blonde. I felt sick. Particularly when I found out that the skunk wasn’t entertaining just her, but other women as well.
I realized then that my dad recognized in this man something that I hadn’t. The tough guy back home, who insisted on curfews even when I was a grown-up and who told me exactly what he thought about the men I dated, was right, as he’d been right many times before. He never once reneged on the authority he felt as my father–and I can tell you now that nothing feels better to a teen or young daughter than being protectively embraced by Dad’s strong arms. His authority kept me out of trouble, it made me feel loved, and more than anything, it made me proud that he was my dad.
Let me tell you a secret: many daughters challenge their fathers. They’ll dive into a power struggle with you, not to see how tough you are, but to see how much you really care about them. So remember when she pushes hard against your rules, flailing, crying that you are mean or unfair, she is really asking you a question: Am I worth the fight, Dad? Are you strong enough to handle me? Make sure she knows the answer is yes.