I have a lot of titles. Regional sports editor. Journalist. Author. White Castle Hall of Fame inductee.
To my teenage daughter, though, one title seems to fit better than all the rest: Embarrassing Dad.
There was a time, seemingly not so long ago, when I was an absolute hero to my little girl. She literally thought I could do no wrong. She thought I was the bravest, smartest, strongest man in the world — and she never ceased to be amazed when I did that cool magic trick where I pulled my thumb off and put it back on in the blink of an eye.
As she’s grown older, however, she’s come to realize I am not the bravest, smartest or strongest man in the world — pretty far from any of them, actually — and that me “pulling my thumb off” is little more than a cheap parlor trick. I am hopelessly behind in my fashion sense, musical tastes and television viewing habits.
Pretty much everything I do is the most embarrassing thing in the world, and the mere possibility of being seen in public with me seems about as appealing to her as getting a mohawk on Prouty Plaza and piercing her face with a rusty railroad spike. Of course, the fact that my job requires me to be at Troy High School, her school, several times per week to interview coaches and athletes only makes things that much worse. When our paths cross, she avoids making eye contact and simply acknowledges my presence with a monotone, “Hello, Father.”
I guess I’m lucky she admits we’re related at all.
Things generally don’t go much better at home, either. She tends to spend most of her time in her room watching YouTube videos. I no longer get a hug goodnight, but I have managed to convince her that a “goodnight handshake” is an appropriate show of affection. There’s no doubt about it — she’s a teenager and I’m the worst thing that’s ever happened to her.
Thank God for pole vaulting.
Five years ago, my daughter started pole vaulting indoors at the building formerly known as Miami East High School because “it looked fun.” Since then, she’s gotten way more serious about it and has gotten pretty talented at it. As a result, she and I have criss-crossed the state attending pole vaulting competitions. While we may not agree on much these days — and our conversations about anything not related to track and field are often stilted and uncomfortable — we always seem to find common ground when it comes to her pole vaulting career.
Last weekend, that sport took us both to Reno, Nevada, for the annual National Pole Vault Summit. I was a little worried about this, as it would mean spending three days in close company with just my daughter. I wondered how much I would embarrass her on the plane ride out there. Would she ask the flight attendant to have me moved to a different seat? Would she ask TSA to give me the “extra rough” patdown? When we got there, would she immediately ditch me, preferring to hang out with random blackjack dealers instead of her father? Would she gamble away my plane ticket home at the roulette wheel?
Fortunately for me, none of those things happened — because we still had the pole vault.
Sophie was incredibly excited to have the opportunity to compete at a national competition, fly in an airplane for the first time since she was a baby and meet some of her pole vaulting idols (in the pole vaulting world, such things do exist) and was willing to do anything to accomplish these goals, even if it meant being seen in public with her dad.
My daughter — whom, it bears mentioning, I never find embarrassing — was able to accomplish all of these things and more. While she’s usually a very reserved child who is not prone to showing much emotion, I saw nothing but pure joy in her eyes for 72 hours. This was a dream come true for her, something she’ll carry with her for the rest of her life.
And I was honored to be there to be able to see that. She was so happy that she even let her guard down enough to let me into her world. At times, it even seemed like she — gasp — almost liked me. When she was done with her competition, she let me give her a hug, in public, the first time that’s happened in a very long time. Just before we went to sleep on our final night there, she told me, “I love you, Dad.”
Not Embarrassing Dad. Just Dad.
It’s a title I think I’ll wear proudly.
Troy’s very own appears on Thursdays in Miami Valley Today. Contact him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong