Writing about the trials and triumphs of raising his two girls in a suburban home, awash with pin-curlers, comic books, Elvis Presley records and the comfortable bickering that denotes normal family life has won Robert Thomas Allen an international reputation. Maclean’s readers have become so familiar with his recipe for getting along with teen-agers that the editors believed it was time to ask Jane and Mary Allen for their advice on handling parents. Casting around for a ghost writer to help with the difficult assignment they finally fixed on a likely (and handy) fellow called
A father is something bigger than a bread box but smaller than Rock Hudson. In temperament, he is somewhere between your mother and Matthews of Highway Patrol. Conversation with him is difficult because of his background. He lived a Spartan life and reached middle age by survival of the fittest. He used to walk everywhere when he was a boy. often through deep snow. He earned all his own money, made his own Christmas gifts and bought his own bicycles. He didn’t even think of dates until he was twice as old as you. At your age he was trying for his King’s Scout badge in path finding. When he was a year older than you are he was earning his own living—and you didn’t tool about a job in those days. If you'd done things the way you cleaned your room last Saturday you’d have been fired.
Not only Daddy, but the whole world was different then. Teen-agers appreciated what was done for them, respected adults and made their own hula hoops out of barrel staves. Newspapers were two cents. Girls didn’t chew gum and they all behaved like young ladies. Boys behaved like gentlemen. Girls dressed sensibly and didn’t slop around in boys’ shirts and moccasins. Everybody learned his job from the ground up. Schools were better. Daddy did three hours’ homework every night and was glad of the opportunity to get an education.
All this left Daddy firmly set against lipstick,
going steady, blue jeans, bare feet, chemises, balloon dresses, the Top Forty Hit Survey, the Everly Brothers, Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley. He won’t listen to rock n' roll. He says it's not music, it's an excuse for not learning how to play an instrument, a symptom of what's happening to the world, and that it could only be taken seriously by a generation that doesn't know any better. He evidently doesn't apply any of this to the songs he plays when he sits down at the piano. Some of his favorites are: Jada. Jada, Jada. Jada Jing, Jing Gee; Yes, We Have No Bananas: 1 Want Some Sea Food, Mama: Doodle De Doo. and It Must Be Jelly ’Cause Jam Don't Shake l.ike That.
A father is someone who thinks everyone but himself stays in the bathroom too long. He has an unpredictable disposition and now and then shouts at the top of his voice that he'll teach you to control your temper if he has to murder you. He sulks in clothing departments, at high-school plays and through all conversations about hair styles. On motor trips if we so much as mention doing some shopping at a souvenir shop he starts going faster. With Daddy there is just one objective to any trip: getting there and getting back as fast as possible.
He seems to live a lot of his time in some other world. He has to figure out what grade you’re in by reciting something that goes “junior first, senior first, junior second, senior second’’ right
up to senior fourth anti on into high school. He gets all your friends' names mixed up and. when he tries' to identify them, describes them as it they came from outer space. He'll say. “That kid with the big ears who never looks at me was here. He said you're to be at play practice tonight instead of tomorrow night." He forgets to give you phone messages. He can look as if he is listening to you without hearing anything you say.
We have an arrangement at our house about phone calls when we have to be picked up somewhere. It's to save us the ten cents for the phone call. We let the phone ring twice and hang up. This is the signal for Daddy to pick us up. But he always answers it. Then he remembers that he shouldn't have, and makes it worse by listening but not saying anything, then hanging up quietly.
A middle-aged father is someone who thinks you're either too young or too old. You're too young for boys, high heels, a driver's license or to have formed any correct judgment of the world. You are old enough to judge when it's time to go to bed or help set the table, to know when to stop talking and take an interest in things like mortgages. He says you're almost old enough to be out earning your own living, but if you put enough lipstick on to see he stares at you as if you were something in a horror movie.
A father is someone who refused to follow the career his parents wanted him to follow, went against everyone’s advice to do what he wanted to do*and left home early to do it. but thinks you should stay in school as long as possible and concentrate on typing and stenography. He tells you all the reasons why you’re not likely to make a success of any of the careers you want to follow.
"With a drink and cigarette, he'll explain that drinking and smoking are bad for the health"
He got married at eighteen but thinks the worst thing young people can do is to get married under twenty-seven, which is his magic age for everything, including drivers' licenses. If you ask him if he's sorry he got married young he says to stick to the point. If you say that is the point and mention the possibility of falling in love he gets red in the face and shouts statistics about there being 1,500,000 people in Toronto and suburbs, which means about 750.000 males, anti tells you that out of these there are probably 550,000 you can fall in love with so why not fall in love with someone who has brains and money. In Daddy's* opinion, choosing a life partner is like looking for a store that gives trading stamps.
It's hard to imagine what he was like when he was young. He can look at a movie star like Tab Hunter, in a scene that brings tears to your eyes, and say, “I’ll bet that guy has so much money he can hardly breathe." In TV plays about a girl whose mother is trying to come between her and the man she really loves he cheers for the mother.
A father thinks girls giggle too much, and he can sit right through a story about something hilarious one of the kids in your class did, and when you're finished ask if that's what you do all day instead of learning something. But when he feels funny, he shows his friends old snapshots of you as a baby and points out that your head is the same shape upsidedown as right side up, puts the alarm clock in front of you when you're on the phone or gets up and shows you how he used to do the Charleston.
At the end of a motor trip when he puts the car in the garage, he sees how close he can come to the other end of the garage before everybody screams. He sits there grinning as if it were really funny, but the next night if we say some boy is driving us to a dance. Daddy wants to know' how old he is and if he has any sense of responsibility behind a wheel. He thinks all boys stole the cars they're driving and will turn them over at the next turn, and that after 10.30 at night anyone who has gone for a drive with a male under twenty-seven is lying under a wreck.
A middle-aged father has fads which
he enforces violently. He has Let's Be Neat Week, No Backtalk Week, Polish The Car Week. I've Been Putting MoneyIn The Bank For You For Ten Years Week, and I Don't Know Whether I'll (jive It To You Unless You Change Drastically Week. He takes spells of economizing, tries cutting his own hair, filing rough spots off his teeth and chuckling about saving six dollars on a dentist appointment, mends his own glasses and talks through supper about bequeathing his body to a university so that the undertakers won't make any money on it, until you hardly know what you're eating, then tells you that one of the things wrong with the modern generation is that they can't think of anything but money.
He’s inconsistent. He'll say that the tea is too weak, that he doesn't like oranges, caraway seeds, salads, thin steaks or carrots, but if you say you don't like eggs, milk or liver he tells you that when he was a boy you ate what was put in front of you and were glad to get it.
He thinks girls should wear uniforms and pigtails until they're nineteen, but always appears in the living room to watch TV if someone comes on like Jayne Mansfield, who he says is disgusting.
A father can stand with a drink in one
hand and a cigarette in the other and explain that smoking and drinking are bad for the health, foolish and that teenagers just try that kind of thing to draw attention.
Two of his favorite expressions are “You’re not old enough,” and “is really.” He says social study is really geography, physical education is really recess, Make Love To Me is really Tin Roof Blues, and that the heavyweight champion of the world is really Joe Louis. Other favorite expressions are “Be back at six,” “You're not to stay more than two hours,” "You have to have your work done by twelve," and "You have ten minutes to be in bed.” When he says “Right now!" he means “If you don't come out with your hair half-washed you’re trying to overthrow parental authority.”
A middle-aged father seems unaware of a lot of things that are going on around the house. Just as Perry Como is coming on TV, or some other show you've been waiting to see, and you start downstairs to the living room, you hear a chord and realize that Daddy has settled down for a concert of Old Favorites. Sometimes he doesn't seem to know what is going on around school either. If you mention something that your teacher told you at school, and your father doesn't
agree with it, he tells you to go up to the teacher the next day and ask her what she was talking about. It sounds simple. But if the teacher happens to be in a bad mood she thinks you’re getting smart with her. On the other hand, if you tell Daddy that you can’t ask her he thinks you're getting smart with him.
A lot of things have been said about the problems of living with a teen-age daughter, but living with a middle-aged father isn't easy. His ideal of a daughter is someone who is attractive and well groomed without taking any interest in cosmetics, clothes, hair-styles or boys: intelligent and well read without being argumentative; someone who thinks a problem right through to the same idea that he has. He'd like her to be gracious, practical and ladylike and not to mind polishing the car on Saturday for her allowance. He expects her to be able to take advice, but if you take the advice of someone at school he says you're easily led and should have more sense.
He likes to try new ideas, like family consultations, but if everybody doesn't vote the same way he does, he keeps arguing until bedtime. If you want a pair of shoes he doesn't think you should wear, he'll ask the salesman what he thinks of a kid of your age wearing shoes like that. If the salesman says all the young people are wearing them, the minute Daddy gets outside the store he says the guy should be fired.
All in all, a middle-aged father is someone who is opposed to most of the things you believe, who hasn't much confidence in your ability to meet any of the problems he met, and who sees things from the point of view of another world. When he is discussing your problems he sometimes gives the impression that he is studying the quaint customs of some primitive society.
He is really an amazing person, and the most amazing thing about him is that most of the time you don't mind him. He is good at killing spiders, he has odd flashes of memory about things like how to work out problems in algebra, and if you don't mind listening to him tell you that teen-agers today have it too easy, have too much and don't appreciate anything that is done for them, he often hands you money when he's finished. He keeps it in his pocketbook and when he counts it he keeps looking at you as if you stole some of it but he probably doesn't think so really.
Anyway, his good points outbalance his bad points and having him around is very educational.
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