FORT MILL -- A couple of months ago, when my oldest daughter became a teenager, I vowed to change. I would try not to embarrass my three daughters with my old car stalling in front of 600 people at school, making them get me coffee refills even if the refill wasn't free, talking to strangers in checkout lines, or hugging in public while wailing about why bathing suits cost $65.
Apparently, I am a failure -- they still want no part of me.
It all started after the last day of school. An end-of-the-year party for a bunch of middle-schoolers the next night. Only about 30 or 40 kids. My role? I would pay for it, I was told.
"But you are not invited," was added. "Too embarrassing. Loser."
Now it is hair. Braids last night in my kitchen for the 13-year-old. About five hours to get the hair braided, then she spends six hours in front of every mirror in the house, including the TV and the door of the microwave oven. I figured I would try another coolness tack for the hair model. I would take her to Starbucks on Friday afternoon.
"Maybe there is hope for you," said the teen. She stared straight ahead in terror at traffic lights in fear she would be seen in the old beater of a car I drive. We hit traffic on S.C. 160 near the Starbucks and a woman in an SUV cut me off with an illegal left turn through a red light. I issued what I thought was a warm, Fort Mill hand-gesture greeting.
The lady gaped and honked. I thought maybe she thought I was a handsome, dashing figure driving a retro car. A movie star, maybe, or at least a TV guy.
"Daddy!" she screamed. "Not cool!"
We strode into Starbucks together. I, who normally drink the one-size-fits-all coffee at dives, made the mistake of asking for a medium.
"Grande, loser," the teen said under her breath.
Then I asked her, loud enough for the counter guy to hear, if she had any money for her drink and my coffee.
"Cool dads always pay," she said. "They don't ask strangers if they should pay. Like you just did. They just fork over the money."
The guy laughed.
Clearly, at me.
I asked the lady making the drinks if on the loser-dad scale, I was a "1" for the best, coolest dad on earth, or a "10" for biggest loser.
"10!" came the voice of the teen. "You just proved it by asking her. Who asks a stranger if they are a loser? Except you."
I asked the lady what picture is on the stirring stick and she said a "Siren."
"Greek mythology!" I shouted. "See, I know cool stuff."
"Quieter, and who cares, and that is not cool," said the teen, whose head swiveled to make sure no one from school or anywhere else witnessed this debacle.
Another worker asked if we knew where the word "Starbucks" came from. I commenced reciting Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn": "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, a stately pleasure dome decree ..." and the teen shot me a look that cuts arteries.
"No, Moby Dick," said the lady.
The nice lady, probably age 25, tops, said all dads are a 5 on the loser scale to start with. She said I was "maybe a 5-and-a-half." I think maybe she wanted a tip. She smiled at me. She must have been a teen once, and had a father, and lived through it.
The look on my teen's face said she may not make it that far.