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One miserable December afternoon, on a melancholy Toronto street with puddles of mud, I divorced my daughter. During a passionate driving lesson, I abandoned my beloved to an indifferent world, and it broke my heart.
The cruel imperative to let go was molded by my father.
When I was 17 and invincible, I snuck out of my parents’ house for 64 straight nights to sleep over at my girlfriend’s house. Crossing the lanes to the city center, his hovel was my refuge.
The ruse depended on getting back to the nest at 6:30 a.m. before my parents woke up. But on the 64th night, I was arrested at 6:29. My father was waiting.
I remember a painfully long moment of silence, as if observing a Remembrance Day ritual. He was about to lose something forever. As I posed to challenge him, I was also softened by the sincerity of his dilemma.
All he could muster was, “What the hell is that, Steven? Why?”
“I won’t give up on this,” I replied with certainty, but without drama.
His 75 inches of towering paternity shifted nervously. Sadness weighed on his impressive shoulders.
“The world will teach you your madness, Steven, not me.”
Looking back, I remember it as his finest moment of parenthood.
Would I be able to exhibit the same virtue, 40 years later, with Danielle, my 17-year-old firecracker? She’s a sassy young girl, whose tongue is pointed and firmly planted in her cheek. She spits things like, “Dad, be curious, please. Engage in my life.
Or, “How are you, Dad?”
“Good,” I said.
“Don’t lie,” she said impassively. “I know you are in pain.”
The art of mockery, an ancient code of conduct inherited by daughters to manipulate their fathers, comes to Dani a little too honestly. With her foot on the accelerator pedal, I knew I’d be tiptoeing through a teenage minefield.
Dani and I practiced breaking up a few years ago.
When she was 14, we had an idea, worse than the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in 1914, to go shopping together on a Saturday at the Toronto Eaton Centre. She needed a dress to impress. The item proved elusive. I could feel the tsunami of terror coming.
Being the victim of Dani’s oppression wasn’t exactly a new experience for me. I had the Fathers’ Aid Society on a speed dial.
My poor old prosthetic knee couldn’t keep up with the scavenger hunt. Add a dose of my callousness to his spell, and we were catapulted to the gates of Hades. This wise, hormonal monster aimed at me with his orthodontic smile, and blurted out, “Steven, let’s break up.” (She always uses my first name when she decides I’m a toddler.)
I was struck by its clarity. It was far more conclusive than his standard “We Fight” fare.
I realize that giving freedom to a young teenager in a mall is nothing compared to letting Dani take the wheel on the 401 freeway.
The driving lessons have started well. She anointed me with, “Dad, I love that you give it to me straight. Mom only says positive things. I learn better with you.
Like Pavlov, she had just approved of negative reinforcement. She had tried to impress the educator in me. It was a tactic to distract me from my own intensity.
But I was not fooled. His blades were always ready.
The lessons went well until we got to the parallel parking lot. She forgot to check a blind spot on a nearly empty cul-de-sac. I considered this a heinous crime. Automotive betrayal. I’ve warned her a million times. All I could see was the jaws of life in her future.
I tried to cut my madness. I didn’t utter a syllable. But my darling, who is the Einstein of emotional intelligence, knew better.
She chose her words carefully: “I prefer a supportive approach today, Steven.”
“Of course, Dani, I’ll support you to the emergency room.”
Her upper lip is gone. “And people pay you to work with teenagers?”
The interior of the car was swept away by an emotional hurricane. I wondered out loud – my last salvo – if there was any insurance for PTSD.
She glared at me, just like her grandmother used to when I lost my socks or ate vanilla cake for breakfast.
Waving a white flag, I blurted out, “Let’s separate.
A biblical rainbow descended from the sky. He illuminated this austere avenue in all its splendor. The contempt turned into bursts of hysterical laughter. We switched places in the car and I drove us home. We were both released.
I would never teach him to drive again. This divorce was final. Nature would instruct from now on. Darwin took over.
Just two weeks later, the Province of Ontario somehow decided, through an evidence-based scheme, that Dani was fit to drive the streets alone.
Probably her examiner was seduced by Dani’s poor little face. She can play the damsel in distress at the right time.
That same night, she said, “I’m taking the car to babysit.
“Ah, are you okay Dani? »
It was the same little piece of heaven that sucked my little finger for the first 45 minutes of its life. My darling, who always begged me to linger a little longer at the beach, with her piercing blue eyes reflecting the sea.
She never knew I hadn’t slept the night we divorced, broken as I was by her vulnerability.
The roads and the people who drive them can be cruel. She will have to discover them for herself.
World, please be careful my daughter.
Steven Gottlieb lives in Toronto.