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Dear John: Single Dad - How Do I Handle Daughter’s Adolescence?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

I am a single dad with a wonderful daughter who is on the verge of entering puberty. Her mom, the greatest woman I’ve ever known, passed away several years ago. I feel a little overwhelmed at the thought of my girl having a lot of questions and undergoing so many physical and emotional changes without having a woman in her life to guide her through it. We live in the middle of nowhere and I don’t have any close female friends or relatives nearby. And a lot of it I know in theory but don’t have any inkling of how it works in the real world. I’m at a bit of a loss. Any words of advice?

Good Dad, Not So Good Mom

Dear Good Dad,

As hard as I’m sure it is at times, you mustn’t give your daughter the idea that this is something she needs a mom to help her deal with and that you’re a poor substitute who will just have to muddle through. She will take her cues about this entirely from you, so if you convey to her that you feel overwhelmed (even though that’s completely understandable), she’ll probably feel anxious, but if you treat it matter-of-factly as something you’ll figure out together, she’ll think Dad has it under control.

The first thing you have to do is get very, very comfortable (if you’re not already) talking to your daughter about her body. She will undoubtedly cringe at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will be. Tell her that you’re a man (duh) so you haven’t actually experienced for yourself the changes that puberty brings for a girl, but you know what they are and this is what will happen. (I’m assuming you know these things. If not, it’s all online for you to read about. You have to be able to talk to her in a way that reassures her that you know what you’re talking about.) When you’re done talking with her about how her body will change, let her know that these changes will necessitate some things you’ve just never had to know, like how to use a tampon or how to wear a bra, but you’re going to learn these things together. Then you’re going to have to be creative. Hopefully, your daughter has a doctor she sees regularly, so he or she (or a physician assistant or nurse) can talk with her (and you) about how to use tampons. Perhaps a sympathetic saleswoman in a nearby department store can talk to you both about fitting her for a bra. You don’t have to know all this stuff; she just has to see that you’re not daunted by it and you have a plan to find out the things you don’t know. A lot of being a parent is creating the illusion for our kids that we know what we’re doing. If they only knew!

Dear John,
I am a senior in college. I have a couple of roommates who are good friends – this is the third year we’ve lived together. We’re all women.
A couple of weeks ago the parents of one of my roommates were visiting. I’ve met them briefly before and they seemed nice. I know my roommate gets along with them very well. Well, on this visit, her father hit on me. It was nothing explicitly sexual, but there was no ambiguity in the message either. He didn’t leave himself any room to claim it was a misunderstanding. I was shocked, flustered, stammered something, and left the room.
I was really upset about this at first, but now I’m just angry. He is a very successful and charismatic man, and I imagine he’s used to getting his way. My roommate kind of idolizes him and I feel so bad for her that this guy she thinks is so great is such a jerk. Should I tell her what happened? I am so sick of guys like him thinking they can just do whatever they want and have whatever they want with no one calling them on it or making them own up to their behavior.

Dear Disgusted,
As appalling as your roommate’s father sounds, I don’t think telling her about this will strike a blow against obnoxious narcissists everywhere. More likely, it will just undermine, and possibly destroy, your friendship. Given the choice between believing you and believing Dad’s explanation that you must have misunderstood something he said and maybe his little girl is living with someone who’s a just a wee bit crazy, who do you think she’ll believe? I agree that it’s galling these selfish, self-absorbed men feel like they can get away with anything (because they so often do), but the most I would advise you to do is let him know exactly how you feel about him should he have the temerity to hit on you again.
Dear John,
What do you do when you know a colleague could use some support or encouragement, but you only know because there’s no privacy in the workplace? I work in an open office environment where everyone can hear everyone else’s phone calls because we’re all in cubes or even just sitting together at tables. There’s one woman I don’t really know but she seems nice and I feel sorry for her. She frequently takes phone calls that consist of her trying to mollify or reason with someone who sounds just awful. Her half of the conversation usually consists of her apologizing or listening for long stretches to what I assume is some kind of rant. More than once, she’s hung up with tears in her eyes. I don’t want to butt in or make her uncomfortable with the thought that everyone is eavesdropping, but I want to let her know that I couldn’t help but overhear her and ask her if there’s anything I can do to help. Is that too nosy, though?
Couldn’t Help But Overhear

Dear C.H.B.O.,
There’s a lot here you don’t know: maybe she’s talking to an abusive partner; maybe she’s dealing with a mentally ill parent; maybe she has a sibling or child who takes advantage of her. One thing you do know, though, is that these conversations are upsetting for her. So why not start just by getting to know her a little better? Go out to lunch or go for a walk and give her a chance to open up. As you get to know her, she can decide if she wants to confide in you or not. There’s a chance that these conversations are upsetting while they’re happening, but she doesn’t want to think or talk about them when they’re over. Spending some time with her will let her decide how much she wants to share.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].


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