“Who’s they? I asked about Kat.”
This conversation with my eldest daughter was a millennial Abbott-and-Costello-routine gone bad. I was asking about “who” and instead was hearing about the whole infield: Who, What, I Don’t Know and I Don’t Care. I really was starting not to care myself.
“Why are you answering me in the plural when I am asking just about Kat.”
“I am answering you this way because that is how they refer to themselves now.”
The incandescent light bulb… I mean, the LED light bulb suddenly flashed above my head. I had entered a brave new world of gender identification. I quickly took a mental note to delve into Wikipedia the minute I got home.
“Dad, it’s hard to explain. I don’t always know the right words, myself. There are cisgender, genderfluid, z, agender… it’s hard to know how each person wants to identify.”
“And for you, it’s probably even harder especially when you’re coming at this from a place of white male privilege.”
“Whatcha talkin’ bout, Willis?”
(Note to self: It’s a potential comic minefield when you’re a 50+ suburban dad citing a young African-American catchphrase to a Gen Y or Z-er who most likely thinks Gary Coleman is a character from Avenue Q. Plus, my interpretation comes across more like Garry Shandling than the impish Arnold Jackson.)
As we drove in silence for the next ten to fifteen minutes, I started to experience my own proverbial seven stages of grief… not from the loss of life but about the undeniability of no longer being relevant or cool. So as we passed one exit after another, I began my mental journey toward acceptance of this anachronistic fate.
First stage: Shock.
The shock of using a Diff’rent Strokes reference to a person consumed with podcasts, NetFlix and YouTube. If anything, I should have been hip enough to quote The Office.
Next stage: Denial
Denial that I was being perceived as a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal or, even worse, a Fox News sycophant. Heck, I voted for Hillary… don’t I get gluten-free brownie points for that?
Third stage: Bargaining
If I stopped and got my daughter some Starbucks, my “woke,” liberal mojo would be back as quick as a barista could whip up a no-cal, extra-foam mochaccino.
Fourth stage: Guilt
Oy, I had a millennium or two of that to spare. Plus, I had admitted to actually watching Diff’rent Strokes back in the day. (Oy, again… the guilty pleasure of using the phrase “back in the day!”)
Good… just three steps left: anger, depression and acceptance.
Since I was too depressed about the first four stages, I decided to move straight to acceptance. Plus, according to my daughter, I had “white male privilege.” What did I have to be depressed or angry about?
But as I tried to navigate through that curve straight into acceptance, a sudden, unanticipated anger rose from the very soles of my overpriced loafers to the tippy top of graying hair. “White male privilege?” What the f*** was she smoking? (ingesting… vaping? I was still stuck in the bong and bongo age!)
I abruptly pulled off to the side of the road.
“I DO NOT have white male privilege… YOU DO!”
“I said, you are the one with white male privilege… the privilege of being an overindulged, suburban millennial with a latte in one hand and an iPhone in the other. All paid for by this middle-aged man driving you home from college”
My daughter looked at me aghast… well, I think she looked at me, in between her social media clicks and likes.
“That’s right… you have all the privilege and I have all the bills. While your donning your pussy hat and eating overpriced acai bowls, I’m precariously navigating a corporate ladder where low-cost, under 30 digital man-buns are trying to push me out. While you were traipsing across Italy last year on your junior year abroad, I was having a senior moment in the supermarket looking for buy one, get one free pasta! And while you’re waxing your eyebrows and getting highlights, the highlight of my week is a cortisone shot and a trip to Costco!”
I would not be stopped.
“Put down the phone and look at me! I am the first person in my family ever to go away to college… the first one to own a house… I lived on public assistance while you go to a private college with a vegan option. This 1960’s man with the alleged ‘privilege’ spends half his week taking out the trash and the other half dealing with corporate garbage. I got lifestyle creep up the yin-yang, and the creeping feeling I’m one step away from hip replacement.”
“And further more…”
I could have gone on for days, weeks, years, a decade or two. My middle-age rant spread like my stomach across my belt buckle. I was finally having my men-o-pausal moment, all hot and bothered with no way to cool down.
I paused to look at my daughter, staring at me with watery eyes.
“I’m… I’m so sorry, dad. You know how much I love you and appreciate everything you do for us. And… you’re right… I do have white male privilege. I just never thought of it that way. I am just as confused and scared as you.”
Seventh and final stage: Acceptance
Finally exhaling for the first time in a very long time, I pulled back onto the road and began the long journey home. To that one place where some things may need to be fixed, but nothing of real value is ever truly broken.
You know, sometimes acceptance comes when you least expect it, most often need it, and from someone far wiser and more “woke” than you. And that’s a privilege of fatherhood I fully embrace.