My So-Called Daughters

November 21, 1994|By TIM BAKER

My daughters are both at home this week. One's 23. The other's 15. But the age difference doesn't seem to matter. They talk together all the time. Especially at night in the older one's bedroom.

They're in there now. Chattering away. I put down my paper and listen. But the door is shut, and their voices are muffled. I can't make out what they're saying. One of them shrieks. Now they're both laughing. The happy clamor rolls down the hall toward my den.

I tap on their door. ''Yes, Daddy.'' I open it and look inside. Silence. My two daughters are sitting on the bed. Staring at me. 'Yessss?''

''What are you all talking about?''

''Oh, nothing.''

They glance at each other and burst into laughter. They're staring at me. I shut the door and go back to my den. Their voices are lower now. For a few minutes anyway. Then one of them laughs. They're talking about the same thing again. They can't fool me. I know what they're talking about.

Last night, when I knocked and opened the door, I found their mother in there, too. Sitting with them on the bed. Silence. All three of them stared at me. ''Yesssss?''

''What are you all talking about?''


They glanced at each other and laughed. Then the three of them stared at me. The four of them, actually. Our dog was on the bed too. Our female dog. Lying there staring at me.

So it's me and the cat. Our male cat. We're sitting here on the sofa reading the paper while all the women in this family are down the hall. Behind the door. Talking.

I know what they're talking about.

Later I asked my wife what they were talking about.


See! I told you. I knew all along. I knew exactly what they were talking about.

My son comes home from college tomorrow. He and I'll discuss things. Man to man. The two of us. He'll tell me more about his seminar on Gandhi and the film class he's taking. We've discussed them before. He calls home every Sunday night. We talk. Often just the two of us. About his courses, basketball, skiing. Every once in a while, he'll say something about girls.

If I dare to ask.

He might mention some girl he's met. How much he likes her. How it's going. He's worried she may not like him. Like really like him.

I remember how awkward I felt at that age. Like how do you know when to try to kiss a girl. So I tell him stories from my own teen-age years. Because some things haven't changed. Like how hard it is to figure out what's really going on with girls.

If only my son and I could sit on the bed with my daughters and listen to them talk. We wouldn't interrupt. I promise.

They'd probably say OK. They both adore their brother, and the three of them talk easily. At times they even talk with me.

So we might get laughing and telling stories about the family camping trips we used to take. When they were all younger.

We'd have fun. The four of us. Talking. But it wouldn't be the same as when my daughters are in there by themselves. Talking together. With my son and me around, they wouldn't talk about the same things. Not in the same way.

Sometimes my older daughter and I talk about relationships. She has a boyfriend. She asks me what guys think. I ask her what she thinks. How it's going. Where it's going. Is this the one? How do you know?

''How did you know, Daddy?''

My younger daughter and I are more guarded with each other. Especially lately. She's started dating this fall and now has her first boyfriend. She doesn't want her dumb father to interfere. So every issue is a potential minefield. I want her home by midnight.

Midnight??? It's an outrage. A human-rights atrocity.

But she and I have found one way to talk. At 8 o'clock every Thursday night we sit down together, just the two of us, and watch ''My So-Called Life.'' It's ABC TV's weekly series about Angela Chase, a 15-year-old girl going to a suburban high school, struggling with her parents, and trying to figure out boys.

Brian Krakow, the boy across the street, is secretly wild for her. But of course she's snowed over the brooding hunk, Jordan Catalano. At school, she and her friend Rayanne watch him leaning against his locker. They agree he has ''a great lean.''

During the next commercial, I ask my daughter what that means. She demonstrates. But when I try it, she just laughs.

It's too late for me. I'll never have a great lean.

Anyway, this enigmatic Catalano guy intrigues Angela. She can't figure him out. But my daughter's got him pegged, and she also has a lot to say about what's going on between Angela and her father.

So as soon as the program is over, I start asking her questions. We have a great time analyzing all the relationships. After all, it's just TV. It's not my daughter and it's not her father.

Later I can hear my two daughters chortling together in the bathroom. They're in there now. Getting ready for bed. Doing whatever they do with their hair. Talking about shampoo and split ends.

That's what they claim, anyway. They say they're only talking girl stuff.

One of them shrieks. Their laughter rolls down the hall.

They can't fool me. I know what they're really talking about. And if I sit here very quietly, maybe I can hear what they're saying.

Tim Baker is a lawyer who writes from Columbia.

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