Dad stalks the wild teen-ager again

July 14, 1996|By RAY FRAGER

I DON'T KNOW WHEN it became a family tradition, but my trips to Ocean City with one or both of my children seem to have become as embedded into our yearly schedule as Thanksgiving at my mother's or Seders with my in-laws.

Partly to cut into my guilt at not being around the kids enough and partly to give my wife a break, the trip has developed into a Dad-only production. Mom stays behind, goes to work, eats quiet dinners alone and rents movies to her heart's delight. By Memorial Day, she'll invariably ask, feigning lack of interest, "You're taking the kids to O.C. again, right?"

The answer is always yes. The timing is between the end of

school and the beginning of camp. That puts us in Maryland's Atlantic playground at the same time as every graduating high school senior within four states.

My daughter, the older of the children, is still in middle school, so our vacation offers me the role of Marlin Perkins, observing life in the wild among the teen-agers. "Let's watch as the male teen-agers gather in a circle for the rite known as 'hacky sack.' Please notice how they kick up their legs in an effort to attract the female."

I'm not sure my daughter believes me when I tell her that those bell-bottoms the teens are wearing could have come straight out of my high school days in the '70s. I'm not sure if she's impressed or just embarrassed when I know the words and sing along to the Oasis song being strummed by a boardwalk minstrel. "Your dad's pretty hip, huh?" I venture. "Yeah, right," she replies, perhaps wondering if this delusionary behavior runs in the family.

The truth is, I feel far from hip. I don't have a barbed-wire tattoo around a biceps. And, most tellingly, the only holes in my body are the ones God put there.

Earrings on guys are Establishment at this point, I know. Joan Osborne's nose ring wasn't even shocking to VH1 viewers. But, I'm sorry, I don't get pierced navels. And I can't stop shuddering at the rings in eyebrows.

One night during our beach vacation, we were eating dinner at an Italian restaurant on the boardwalk. At the next table sat a group of four teens -- three boys and a girl. The young woman had the fresh-faced look of a cheerleader. No weird colors on her head, just normal blond hair in a sensible short cut. Little 'N earrings and just one in each ear. She would've been a big hit in the Class of '75. Then I noticed something as she was talking -- a flash of metal inside her mouth. No, not braces. A pierced tongue.

Geez, maybe I was in the Class of 1875.

Fortunately for old Dad, my kids' many efforts to empty my wallet don't include anything that will mark their bodies permanently. Each night, we dutifully head down the boardwalk. At an arcade, I can maintain my daughter's respect with a fair showing at skeeball, but I know that if I venture beyond any video game that doesn't include shooting, my son will wipe the floor with me. Someday, my kids will tell their kids about how, when they were little, there were still some video games you could play for a quarter. Just try finding any now, though.

We go to the T-shirt shops, looking for something wholesome among the designs celebrating excessive drinking, illegal drug use and wanton sex. On your top-of-the-line shirts, you generally have all three messages together. Talk about a value. And to think that no one packages it as a Bill Bennett Special.

Heading into a Candy Kitchen is a must. You missed that last one? Don't worry, you'll see another in 10 steps. Yes, we'll take the fudge. Yes, we won't finish it. Yes, the rest will end up melting in the car on the way home. Before that, though, much of it will be spread across my son's face. How to clean up? Dad does a Gaylord Perry, applying his natural juices to the boy's face.

A day later, I observe my daughter slicking down her bangs by spitting into her hands and applying the moisture to her hair. Yech, I say. What's the difference? she asks. You clean my brother's face with your spit. Touche.

Such debating powers aren't the only signs she's growing up. I can pretend she's still a young girl when she's wearing baggy HTC T-shirts, but I whip my head around to see if she's being eyed by any boys in her bathing suit. When I observe a shopkeeper in his mid-20s hitting on three bikini-ed 15-year-olds, I start to laugh at the sight. My daughter knows what I'm laughing about. Hoo boy, in three years, she's one of those girls.

She's tall enough to go on any ride now -- good news for her weak-stomached father, I suppose.

Several Ocean Cities ago, my daughter sat with me on a balcony overlooking the beach. She crawled into my lap and started to cry. She didn't want to grow up, she said, because then she couldn't be my little girl anymore.

On this trip, she still wants Dad to come play in the surf with her. And, for this year at least, she'll still hold his hand.

Ray Frager is an assistant sports editor for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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