When I was growing up, my dad drove a blue Caprice Classic. The kind of car that wasn’t like the newer modeled, sleeker ones that my friend’s got to ride in. No, Dad’s car was a boat. A source of embarrassment when I just wanted to fit in.
Every Wednesday, he came to pick me up from CCD (that’s Catholic religious education if you’re unfamiliar) in the carpool line. The minute I saw him pull up in his honker, I barely noticed anyone around me. I was nervously strategizing how I could slip into the backseat discreetly. I couldn’t. Those doors sometimes took more than two hands to close. There was no disguising that I was connected to that car and to my gray haired dad who I felt looked like my grandfather. In my self-conscious mind, everyone else’s dad was young and cool, seemingly ageless and stylish. And presumably rich to afford a car that wasn’t at least a decade old. I didn’t know about leasing yet. Those dads seemed like everything that my dad wasn’t even though I really didn’t know them at all.
Now that I’m older, I hate that I was ever embarrassed of my dad. But that’s part of growing up. I see that now in my own children. A few years back, when I was closer to 30 than 40, my 12-year-old son told friends that I was 37 because he thought I was too young for a mom. I’d had the opposite problem with my dad and his gray hair that I thought aged him out of being a dad. And now with my husband, I see that having no hair can be just as bad.
My 9-year-old daughter gets embarrassed by things, too. She’ll scan the yard for any signs of cigarettes so her friends won’t know that her dad smokes. A disgusting habit that she feels reflects badly on her. She told me that she once stuck her hand over a cigarette butt jammed in a fence post just so a friend wouldn’t see it. Then I relayed that heartbreaking story to my husband who doesn’t seem to have any willpower. I guess he’ll learn when he’s impotent.
A few days ago I overheard that same daughter face timing with her friend. She was showing her our back door which has a layer of plastic duct taped to the outside. Peter broke one layer of the double-paneled glass awhile back (as in years) and we haven’t fixed it. My daughter’s friend is coming over today so she was almost preempting an explanation by making an apologetic confession for having a house that looks like a construction zone.
As much as it hurts me that my kids feel self-conscious, I get it. Being young is all about trying to blend in. Aspiring to be different comes with age and they aren’t there yet. When I think back to my own experiences, my insecurities had more to do with what I thought of my parents than me. That wasn’t me driving the old car and so what if my dad had grey hair. He couldn’t help his genes. The point is that when you’re young you derive your self-confidence on things outside of yourself that don’t matter. Material things and just wanting to be like everyone else. Wouldn’t life be easier if we could just learn the lesson before the experience? To just bypass the lessons that only come through hindsight? I guess the best we can do is share our own experiences with our children so they’ll get it sooner than we did. I hope.