Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
‘AS LONG AS YOU’RE LIVING IN THIS HOUSE…’
The other day my 17-year-old daughter said, “Hey Dad, can I get a tattoo?”
I immediately replied, “You can do whatever you want—when you turn 21. You can put a tattoo of a snake on your face if you want to once you’re an adult. But as long as you’re living in this house…”
I didn’t need to finish the sentence because I had made my point, plus my daughter was rolling her eyes in such a way that made it clear her ears were no longer functioning. (Isn’t that an odd phenomenon? When teenagers roll their eyes, it shuts down their ability to hear.)
Later that day I recalled a quarter century-old conversation with my father regarding alcohol. “You can do whatever you want,” he said in the exact same tone of voice I had used, “when you turn 21. You can drink beer for breakfast if you want to once you’re an adult. But as long as you’re living in this house…” At that point I must have rolled my eyes because he never finished the sentence.
Then I remembered another aspect of that particular situation. Beginning at age 21 and continuing for many years, I did drink beer for breakfast—and most other meals, too. By my late 20s I was well on my way to becoming either a Skid Row bum or the senior U.S. Senator from the state of Massachusetts.
Fortunately I put the plug in the jug before it was too late. But since my daughter got her good looks from my wife and her stubbornness from me, I began to envision her 21st birthday party, with the whole family singing “Happy Birthday” while trying not to stare at the red and black python permanently affixed to her face.
My daughter was unwilling to accept the Universal Father Decree without a fight, so she offered the Universal Teenage Retort: “But all my friends are doing it!” As a coup de grâce (which all Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck fans know is pronounced “coop dee gracie”) she added, “Tattoos are so cool, Dad!”
Ah ha! I though. A strategic blunder on her part. Instead of employing the Universal Mother Inquiry (which fathers are allowed to use): “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” I went straight for the jugular.
“You want to talk about cool!?” I exclaimed while searching the book shelves. “Here’s cool,” I said as I placed my own 1975 high school yearbook in front of her. “Look at those photos! Go on, force yourself to look. Look at that hair! Look at those clothes! We genuinely thought we were cool!”
“Oooh, that’s so gross!” she winced. “You guys weren’t cool, you were dorks.”
“No, that’s where you’re wrong, dear,” I explained. “We didn’t become dorks until years later—when we started having children. But at that moment in history, at age 17 in 1975, we were really, really cool.
“That’s the whole point, honey,” I continued. “The definition of cool is always changing. Whatever you think is cool today, I guarantee, you will think is ridiculous ten or twenty years from now.”
She had yet to roll her eyes, which meant she was actually listening to my impassioned sermon—for the first time ever. “Tattoos are so permanent,” I quietly added. “It may be cool today, but at some point in the future—on a job interview, at a PTA meeting, in a doctor’s office, or when talking with your own kids—you’re going to wish you’d never got it.
“We left our options open back then,” I said. “When our definition of cool suddenly became uncool, we simply cut our hair, bought new clothes, and the smart ones among us burned our high school yearbooks. If you get a tattoo,” I concluded solemnly, “you will regret it.”
My daughter sighed deeply. Because I hate to see her so frustrated, I offered a suggestion. “Why don’t we do something cool together? How about matching daddy-daughter pierced eyebrows?”
She laughed and said, “Sure. I’ll be cool, you’ll be a dork.”
However, before we could implement our cool but not so permanent idea, my wife got wind of our plan. “You can do whatever you want to,” she said sternly, “when you become adults. For you, young lady, that’s when you turn 21. And for you,” she said, fixing her gaze at me, “hopefully that will happen by the time you turn 51. ”
There was a slight pause and then my wife added, “But as long as you’re living in this house…”
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