Dinner was almost ready to hit the table. I turned to Will and said, “Buddy, dinner is close, but I’ve gotta talk to Jenny first.”
So what if the pasta was going to be mushy.
I pulled my stool next to Jenny and quietly asked her to look at me. When she did I said, “Honey, I want you to know that I remember how that feels. I know what it’s like to be in a room with my dad, have him talk to my brother, and leave before saying a word to me. I know how that hurts, but I don’t want to project my feelings on to you.”
“What does project mean?”
“That means that I don’t want to put my feelings on you. I don’t want to assume that you feel the same way I felt when I was your age. But it isn’t right to pretend that everything is fine. I want you to know that I see the situation – he walked in, talked to Will, saw you sitting there and didn’t say anything. But I don’t know if talking about it makes it worse. I just remember that pretending like it never happened doesn’t feel good either. How can I help you, honey? Is there something I could say or do to help you through this?”
(Jenny hears me swear. She hears Will swear. We have a rule in this house: If it helps you release frustration and anger, you can say it, but don’t say it outside the house around others. If you need to scribble it on a piece of paper and parade it around, that’s fine, but it doesn’t leave the house. That being said, Jenny has her own personal boundaries. She won’t swear. I admire her for that.)
She looked up from making tiny paper frogs and said, “If you could flip him off for me that would help. I can’t make myself do that. But do it after he closes the door so he doesn’t see you.”
“I can do that.”
Sometime after cleaning up the Italian Cube Steaks, too-soft fettuccine and green beans, she came out to the kitchen and stood next to me. In her soft, vulnerable voice she asked, “Is it okay if I hate my dad?”
“It’s okay to hate him, honey. Don’t feel guilty about what you’re feeling. And it’s also okay if someday you change your mind.”
Last evening, we viewed original art at the shows in town, stopped to get a movie and frozen yogurt. Our moods were good. We were looking forward to spring skiing this weekend. Out of the blue, Jenny said, “I hate dad.”
Part of me winced. I stifled that ingrained parental urge to say, “Honey, we don’t hate anything.”
She said hate as if it was a cuss word – her first.