31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Keep The Door Of One's Mind Ajar And Tenderize The Heart

Single With Children: Encounter offers lesson in keeping an open mind

By Susie Parker
Publication Date: 11/10/04

The conversation in the car was sophomoric and funny, so of course I giggled as I listened to Justin and my friend Dan discuss which probing questions to pose to the unsuspecting victim who was about to find himself in the hot seat.

Dan even went so far as to find a "questionnaire" online for this young man to fill out; a kind of application form supplying information for a rogue "background check" for someone wishing to date my daughter. I especially loved, "In 30 words or less, what does 'Don't Touch My Daughter' mean to you?"

Katie had invited us to dinner to meet her new boyfriend. She reminded us to be on our best behavior, but if the conversation between Justin and Dan was any indication, that last request was going to be a tall order.

I started to feel a little sorry for the guy.

This was a new experience for me. My daughter had broken off a relationship with a young man who had been around so long he almost felt like a member of the family. It was strange to think of Katie with someone new.

Soon, Katie arrived at the restaurant and introduced us to her new friend. I couldn't help but make unfair comparisons. He wasn't very tall. OK, so her last boyfriend was 6-feet, 5-inches. He seemed unusually nervous but, then again, we were strangers, and he was outnumbered.

That's what I did all evening. I made comparisons. It was the natural thing to do. After all, I had only seen her in one serious relationship.

As dinner progressed, everyone relaxed. Her date took all the kidding and teasing in stride. He seemed nice enough. Katie was unmistakably happy.

Ten minutes after we left the restaurant, my cell phone rang for the predictable post-dinner phone conference.

"So, what did you think of him? Isn't he great? He's such a nice guy, Mom."

Justin and Dan thought he was great. I was noncommittal. My daughter grew frustrated, annoyed by my lack of enthusiasm. I couldn't pinpoint anything wrong with the guy, it just felt unfamiliar to see her with someone new. Katie wanted to hear a glowing review. She was crazy about him and how could I not see the million and one reasons why she felt that way?

I said I was sure he was a perfectly nice person but she had known him longer and it might take me some time to see many of the things she found so charming. I did mention that he had very polite table manners.

After a protracted silence, she asked if that was the best I could say: polite table manners? I tried to be funny and tell her that was no small thing! Katie didn't laugh.

That's when she taught me yet another lesson in this single-parenting class I've been a student of for well over seven years.

"I understand how it might be hard for you to warm up to a new guy. I know the feeling."

Katie went on to tell me what it felt like the first time she saw me in the company of a date following my divorce. At the age of 14, she said she found that experience to be way beyond strange. It felt plain wrong to see her mother with someone who was not her father. She reminded me how I often seemed puzzled that she didn't warm up instantly to a man she had only just met.

Point well taken. I had difficulty seeing my daughter date someone new after her 2-year relationship had ended. Did I have any clue what it felt like for my kids to see me with someone who was not their father?

A few days later, Katie brought her date over to meet my parents.

I watched as he shook hands with my father, and I smiled when he told my mother her potato soup was the best he had ever tasted.

My parents were open, friendly and gracious, and Katie delighted in their reception. I knew I should be taking notes. This time I spent some one-on-one time chatting with this person my daughter finds so fascinating. Because I focused on things that really matter, I was able to appreciate his sharp wit, and he really did have a nice smile. He certainly seemed to inspire one in my daughter.

This time I found plenty of positive observations to share with Katie. I realized that my daughter had extended a gift with an important, lesson attached.

I was honored that she respected my opinion and solicited my approval. I was also grateful she reminded me of the importance of keeping an open mind and a tender heart.

Readers can e-mail Susie Parker at susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

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