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Advice to a Daughter in Love with the Wrong Guy

I smile and talk slowly, not my characteristically defensive style of rushing through one point to get to another before my audience turns to something more interesting. I sound to myself like a lawyer whose measured talk conveys the weight of each syllable, though one can’t ignore that lawyers bill by the hour. I am addressing my 18-year old daughter, Cara, who has moved from her dorm to live with a brilliant, surly young man.  Cara smiles back as an almost automatic response. Women are less suspicious than men about these facial expressions from nowhere. “I know you must see something in Barker I don’t see,” I say at length. We sip our coffee and I looked up at her. “I mean, you know him better and I’m sure he’s different with you than with me. And maybe also with those others you said don’t like him much, folks he fights with.”

She receives this without batting an eye, further demonstrating to me what a dislikable creep he was.

“I’m not going to tell you that I don’t like him much either and think you should break up with him. I accept that you like him. I even accept,” and here I had to take a breath, “that you’re in love with him.”

“Oh, you’d like him too, Mom, if you really got to know him. It’s just that he’s so smart he has no patience for stupid people and –“

“I’m not stupid, Cara, and he’s never even talked to me.”

“Oh, of course you’re not. I mean the others … Oh, I don’t know what I mean.”

“Okay, just listen to me, Cara, I want to tell you something and it doesn’t have to do with who Barker likes or who likes him. It has to do with you. You love him, let’s start there.”

She was looking at me steadily now. We were on the same team, the same side.

“It’s okay to love someone that others don’t,” I declare. “It’s okay to want to give to someone you love, to give yourself, that’s okay too; it’s what love wants to do.” I stopped and gulped more coffee, trying to be careful, not rush, hoping she’ll stay with me and not push me away in a pique. Oh, how I loved this child of mine! And now how urgently I wanted us to see together with some clarity across the distance and find some helpful direction that she’d be willing to take.

“It’s okay to give yourself,” I repeat, leaning forward and bringing my face closer to her. I was in her space, her bubble. But she had long ago put herself in mine. “What you must never do, though, Cara, is give away yourself. To anyone.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” She is perplexed but interested, at least that.

“Look, Cara, you don’t believe it now, but Barker might not be the only man to come into your life. You might become attracted to another man after him or even several men in time, you’re still very young. Don’t give away that part of you that stands alone and apart from this man or any man. Of course you’re influenced by Barker, just like you sometimes listen to what I say or Dad or your teachers, your friends. Okay, your perception of yourself isn’t fixed. Barker says you’re this or that and you believe him so you accept that you’re this or that …fat, too bright, too stupid, on the right track, the wrong track, or off the track, but that’s not truth, not my truth, certainly. It’s Barker’s truth for you at a time and a state of mind in Barker’s life.

“None of us is you, Cara, none of us. So don’t give your sense of self to him or anyone—not to me, Dad, not even to the man you marry. Do you understand what I’m saying, Cara? Barker can never really hurt you if you hold onto that.”

I did not know then or now, how much my sweet daughter believed what I told her, but perhaps something of it stuck. She left Barker, that arrogant son of a bitch eventually, though not without a degree of self flagellation she didn’t deserve.