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Karma Cleanser

'Pushover' and 'cool dad' don't have to be synonymous


Dear Karma Cleanser:

I like to think of myself as a cool dad, not like my own dad who acted like a suburban version of Vladimir Lenin. My parents did not allow my brothers and me to listen to rock music, stay out late or grow our hair long. Of course, this only caused us to rebel against them and leave home on horrible terms. Thirty years have passed but we all still carry resentment against them.

Now I am a dad myself, with a 12-year-old daughter who is starting to act like she's 19. She wears makeup and listens to hip-hop music in her bedroom so loud that it shakes the windows in the kitchen below. I'm trying very hard not to act like my own dad acted and go up there and kick her door in. I have tried listening to some of her music to try and relate to her. Some of it I liked, but I had to draw the line when she played for me a Missy Elliott song that included a line about the male anatomy: "Seven inches, yeah, that'll do." This stuff clearly isn't intended for young ladies who aren't even in high school yet.

What makes matters worse is that my wife is taking our daughter's side. She says that every adolescent finds just the thing to drive their parents crazy, then they do that thing to death. She also knows my family history so she is very smug in saying that the way my daughter is acting is only payback for the way my brothers and I challenged our parents. Maybe she is right. If she is, how can I break the cycle?

– That'll Do?

Since you started your letter with a Russian reference, we'll respond in kind. Leo Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." By that logic, your family must ultimately be happy, not unhappy, because the situation with your daughter seems to be history repeating. Lucky for you, you know how to play her game already. You're not being the totalitarian parent like your own Marxist patriarch; history has shown suppression will only lead to further rebellion, or else a decades-long rotting of diplomatic relations. Instead, you're playing Gorbachev, dangling some Glasnost in the darling girl's face, only then to withdraw the peace offering once she pulls out the Misdemeanor records. You can't have it both ways. The "cool dad" need not be a pushover – you have every right to be alarmed by a 12-year-old getting a little too comfy with sexual subjects – but maybe this is a chance for the two of you to sit down and have a frank chat about birds, bees and what jerks boys really are. The song she played for you, by the way, isn't actually by Missy. It's Janet. Miss Jackson, if you're nasty. Which you're not.

Been bad?

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