When my friend Angela* was 14, she lived in a small town — big enough for Wal-Mart, but too small for Trader Joe’s — and she had the requisite glasses, braces and curly hair that often come with being a bright teenage girl. She had a frequent, thoughtful laugh, and a wide variety of friends from her school’s music and theatre groups. Her family attended church regularly, and she was almost definitively a good kid.
As an oldest child, Angela got to experience her parents’ first attempts to guide a child through coming of age — a subject that didn’t come up often or easily in their home. But the subject did come up one evening before Angela left for the first event that her parents perceived as a party rather than a sleepover.
“The party was at the house of a girl who might have been slutty. Her parents were divorced and they lived next door to each other,” Angela recalls. “Really, they were weird, but not slutty.”
Before Angela left for the party, her dad sat her down the family’s living room.
“The living room was where we usually went when Dad was on his fourth martini and wanted to crank up the Etta James,” she says. “This time there was no music, and Dad was not drinking.”
Then her dad said, “These next 20 minutes are going to be a little square.”
Angela knit her brows together under her glasses, took a deep breath in past her braces.
“There is going to be drinking at this party,” her dad said. “You know that your mother and I don’t condone drinking at your age, but it’s your choice. Whatever you do, remember you can call us, and to never ride with a drunk driver.”
She nodded her head of wavy, frizzy brown hair, hoping the talk was over.
But it wasn’t.
“I also understand that there might be drugs at this party,” Dad continued. “And you know we don’t condone drug use, but we understand that it’s your choice. If you get into trouble with drugs, just remember you can call us, and make sure you never get in a car with someone who is high. ”
She attempted a nod, but her neck and face muscles gradually froze as she forgot to breathe.
“We know that there will be boys at this party,” he went on. “And while we know that what you do with boys is your choice, we want you to understand that if you get pregnant, we will not support the baby financially.”
At this point, if she’d had gum in her mouth, Angela would have choked on it.
That was the end of her father’s speech.
“The conversation was all in anticipation of something he saw as an inevitability,” Angela remembers.
As chance would have it, none of her father’s worries came true. Time went on, and Angela was never a drinker or anything remotely like a stoner in high school. Not out of fear, but just out of a lack of interest. Same goes for fooling around with boys — she didn’t put herself at risk of pregnancy, not out of fear, but because she was gay.
Despite her father’s worry, Angela has only become more sensible as time goes on. She’s a bicycle-riding graduate student in Portland. She and her long-time partner have a dog and use their money for things like community-supported agriculture. They occasionally go out for drinks and dancing when they’re not studying, and it’s all been very fun and good.
Except, of course, for the time when Angela was unwittingly roofied while dancing at a gay bar in Portland, and woke up in the middle of the night to spend at least 20 minutes trying to remove contact lenses from her bare eyeballs.
That was one her dad never predicted.
(* Name has been changed.)
I am collecting horror stories of parents trying to teach their kids a lesson. If you have one that makes you laugh, leave a comment and I’ll get in touch with you about sharing it.