November 2018 . . . .

“Symbolic Logic”

My daughter came home from the first day of school this fall with documents to read and sign. Schools are big on “covenants” and “agreements” between teachers and students and parents — joint pacts to study and teach, to complete syllabi, to not lose or break computers — and so am I. My daughter (the younger) is still in the satisfaction-through-successful-task-completion age and I understand that, too. There are other types of children, of which I was one, who surrender at sixteen to just not delivering the goods. Oh, I learned the stuff, but didn’t do the homework, or write the papers or study for the exams and my grades in high school showed that truth. Amply.

I read and signed documents placed in front of me, and she was satisfied and so I was satisfied. We talked about her classes. She was quite pleased with the proportions of friends to classes and the subject matter and the expectations that teachers have of her. She was not so pleased with the number of freshmen on her bus ride home (apparently, they were noisy and insubordinate and had hygiene issues). And what was up with the decision to move away from Macbook to Chromebook laptops? I assured her that they are quite adequate, but she sniffed at my opinion. “So, where is yours?” I asked. “Tomorrow,” she said, waving the document I just signed that gives her permission to have one distributed one to her.

Arriving home on the second day of school, she was mightily frustrated. The permission document from the previous day was not the right piece of signed paper. Or it was not sufficiently bureaucratic. Or something. In any case, I had to read and sign a different agreement/contract. And, she explained, they ran out of them in English, so the one she had for me was in Spanish. “You need to sign here, Dad.” “Sweetheart? What does the document say?” “I don’t know.”

Now, I am fully aware of all the triggers this situation had scattered around within it like little gifts in a yard where a big dog lives. The school is short of funding and doesn’t want to waste it making copies of documents in English, when they are readily available in Spanish. And I’m a snide, snarky old man with too much time on his hands. And turnabout is fair play, you Anglo-Saxon privileged male. Just sign the damned form.

But here’s the thing, thought I. What does this teach my daughter? Does the form have relevant information for me? Is it binding, in some way? Will this come back to bite us? How? Am I not mitigating risk? Is that a good lesson to teach? Can you understand my logic, daughter of mine? Then I need to be able to read the form, before I sign it. At the very least, she needs to be able to read it. My daughter understood this, but still wanted me to sign the form. Is the form unimportant (I asked the bureaucrats in my head)? If so, then give my daughter her laptop and stop wasting time, and when you come across some more forms, send one home. Don’t make the unimportant form a hurdle she must jump. My daughter also understood this. But she is practical, and more than another object lesson from me, she needed her laptop. Needed to complete this task (as well as getting on with her homework — trapped inside an application on her laptop). And so, she and I discussed her frustration, (mostly with me for not just signing the damned form) and I was reduced to the point of irritated dad-ness, at which point I failed as a parent. I took the form and wrote “NO” in big letters across the front. Handed it back to her.

Yes, I was wrong. I was wrong, wrong, wrong. But being able to clarify a situation and move on is always the big hammer in my toolbox, and often I’m not permitted to wield it anymore. The truth is, as I read what I’ve typed here, I made a rookie mistake, and after fourteen years, shame on me. Because the worst form of mansplaining is dadsplaining, a word defined as “it’s not what you deliver, it’s how it’s received, dumbass!”

At six-thirty in the evening, there is little one can do about much of anything. You can’t call the school. You can no longer make dinner on time. It’s too early to go to bed and hope that tomorrow is a better day. In the end you have to suck it up and accept that today you’re not as good a stay-at-home-Dad as you’ve been before. Well . . . OK then. Shit.