Short story from Santiago Burdon

Bad Example 

My daughter had just turned fifteen the day before and we were celebrating by having lunch and spending the day after together. She was no longer my little girl. Somehow she went and grew up behind my back without me noticing. 
  
We talked about school and what she had planned for the future. She wanted to drop out of high school, get her G.E.D. and take classes at the community college. 

"High school is more about Social status and hanging with a clique than it is about learning and receiving a good education. You know like; Goth, Preppie, Hippie, Jocks, Stoners you get it."
"Ya I get it."
"I don't fit in with any of them. Now they think I'm stuck up."
" People can be pretty self-righteous, especially teenagers."

I could sense there was something she wanted to tell me but couldn't seem to find the right moment or maybe the nerve. I decided to ask if there was something on her mind she needed to share. I thought it might make it easier for her.
" McKenzie what's up? You appear nervous. You know there's nothing you can't discuss with me."

I've expressed to all of my children to speak openly with me if there was something that they needed to share. Anything, there wouldn't be any kind of repercussions no matter what the problem.   
"This is really difficult for me to tell you. I'm not sure how you're going to react. I don't want it to ruin our day together with you being all mad and pissed off."

What she needed to tell me must be something of extreme importance. I started second guessing my policy about sharing everything with me. Sometimes you're better off not knowing what's going on.
" Okay, let's play, I'll guess and you answer. You know like twenty questions. Sound good?"
"I could give you a hundred guesses and you'd never get it."

"Give me a few guesses. Okay here goes. Are you pregnant?"
" What? I'm not stupid. No, I'm not pregnant. I can't believe you asked me that. You can really upset me sometimes, Santi."
"Well I wanted to get the serious stuff out of the way. Okay, you're Gay." 
 
" You are such a Santihole. No I'm not gay."
"You got a job as a stripper?"
" A stripper? What in the hell is wrong with you? No! No! No! Okay enough, this isn't fun at all. I'm in love! Okay? I've fallen in love with an incredible guy and he loves me. There it is. Now let's hear what you've got to say."

She'd fallen in love at the age of fifteen. I could tell it took a lot of courage to declare her feelings to me. I wasn't sure where to continue from here. There I was unprepared to offer fatherly advice. I hadn't seen an episode of My Three Sons, Leave It To Beaver or Andy Griffith that dealt with this subject to use
as a reference. I was on my own.

" Do I know this fortunate fellow?"
" I'm sure you don't know him. I'll introduce you to him soon." 
" Okay, anytime is fine for me. Just don't wait until the day before your wedding."
"He needs to work up the courage. You may not know it but you have a reputation. It's not a flattering reputation either."

" What do you mean by an unflattering reputation? I'm a wonderful person. How can anyone think otherwise? That's bullshit."
" See, now you're getting all defensive and worked up. I'm just telling you how people feel about you. You didn't know but there were some parents that wouldn't let their children associate with me."
" Who? Why the hell not? I'll have a talk with them, judgemental bastards."

"Take it easy. It was a long time ago."
" Okay so you're in love. How can you know what love is at fifteen?"
"Why, how old do you have to be to fall in love? Is it sixteen like getting a driver's license? Or eighteen, when you graduate from high school? Maybe twenty-one ? How old do you have to be to fall in love? Tell me please."

Again I didn't have an answer. What in the hell did I know about love? My track record for dealing in such a consequential and precarious emotion was less than adequate. I've failed numerous times but still always answered the bell for the next round.
"Listen to me, please don't fall in love or marry anyone like me."
I was a bit taken back by her quick response. She didn't have to take time to think about her answer.

"You don't need to ever worry about that." She commented.
" You certainly are quick with your answer."
" I don't mean to be a bitch. You're an amazing and wonderful father.
You've been an incredible teacher and great friend.
But I would never want a boyfriend or husband like you.
You were the best bad example 
I could've ever had." 

She continued.
"There were moments you hollered when you were mad. Although no matter how angry you were you never hit any of us. I want you to know that I will always be grateful for your love, encouragement and pride in my accomplishments. But your secret life, the hush hush underground stuff. The thing we were told never to talk about. Two in the morning phone calls. Speaking Spanish, trips to Mexico and who knows where else. The different passports that I saw in the desk drawer. It's not normal."

"It's my work." I answered.
"What kind of work is it that you do? Do you know in school when we were asked to tell what your father does, on Career Day, I didn't have an answer. I had to make something up."
"So what did you…
"A Barber and one year a Florist. I still don't actually know what you do for work. Although I have a pretty good idea."

" It is better you don't know. It keeps you safe not being involved.
" Why is that necessary?"
"McKenzie, I'm not going to explain to you what I do."
" I know you can't say what you're involved in. It just seems like you were gone more than home. I'm sure your work isn't legal and we'll leave it at that."

" I always made time for my children. Always there for you." "That's true,you never missed my birthday, a school activity or Holiday including Christmas.
You were always there."

"Listen mija, I'm not going to make excuses for what I do, but I want you to understand what I do, I do to support the family. And you've had a pretty good life. You were well taken care of, never wanting for anything."
" I understand you say that to make it okay. I'm not asking for you to justify your work to me."
"Hey, we seem to have gotten off course. Let's get back to you being in love."

"So you're fine with me being in love? You aren't going to try to talk me out of it? Or give me a list of reasons why it isn't good for me at this time."
" Would it do any good at all? Listen mija, I've always trusted your judgment more than I do your brothers. Remember this, love can be a miraculous and magical sentiment but it's a double edged sword that can cause the most devastating debilitating feeling as well. Are you aware of that side of love?" 

" Yes, Shauna told me basically the same thing. So I've seen it expressed in movies and read about in stories. I have also been a witness watching my mother experience the anguish it can cause."
"Okay let's change it up. I'd rather not have those feelings dragged over memory's razor blades. So what do you feel like eating? This discussion has worked up a powerful appetite. How about Sushi?"
"Sushi is great. So this is it then? You're not going to make me reconsider my feelings.
"Controlling your life by applying my beliefs is not in my Father Job Description Handbook."

" You're a wonderful father. I may have overlooked some good qualities when I said you were a bad example."
"That may be true." I stated with a laugh.
" So after Sushi I thought we'd hit the Art Museum then check out the second hand clothes shops and thrift stores. What do you think?"

"Sounds wonderful. I love you Santi. I didn't hurt your feelings, did I?"
" No, not too much. I'll get over it." I said laughing.
"But now that I think about it, being a bad example can be a good thing. Love you back. You'll always be my little girl."

*McKenzie was killed in a car accident a year later.*

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