Dads, are you guilty of Embarrassing Love? 

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Photo by Emily Harrison

As I drove my 8-year-old daughter, Jessie, to school last Friday, I quizzed her on multiplication tables in preparation for the day’s math test. She answered accurately except for one problem: eight times four. I had her repeat it three times in the car to reinforce the answer. As we were walking into the school, one of Jessie’s friends came running up. I followed the two girls to their classroom. I might as well have turned around and walked back to my car as I became invisible to them, even though I was only a step behind.

As they neared the entrance to their classroom, I said, “Have a good day, girls.” That line didn’t draw a response. But then I said, “Remember, Jessie, eight times four equals thirty-two.” Jessie turned around quickly. “Dad!” Jessie’s verbal and nonverbal communication made it clear that I had embarrassed her in front of her friend.

It wasn’t my first mistake as a parent and it surely won’t be the last. I only wanted her to score a good grade on her test, but I guess I was guilty of “embarrassing love.” As I drove home, I recalled how my parents had embarrassed me with their love thirty years earlier. 

I was in my early 20s and still lived with them in Pennsylvania. I had driven over to visit my girlfriend, Mattie, who lived about 5 miles away. It was snowing, so I parked my car at the top of her farm lane and walked down the half-mile gravel road to her house. If I had driven down the lane, I wouldn’t have been able to get my 1967 Buick Special back up the hill to go home. When you’re in love, walking a mile (round trip) in freezing temperatures is nothing. 

Mattie’s family and I were inside their house playing ping pong and having a good time when we heard a vehicle drive down the lane and stop in front of the barn. Mattie’s brother looked out the window and announced, “It’s Pat’s mom and dad.” Sure enough, my dad was at the wheel of his four-wheel-drive International Scout and Mom was on the seat beside him. 

I walked out and asked my parents why they were there. They said that with the freezing weather and more snow in the forecast, they wanted to make sure I got home safely. Maybe it’s a “man” thing, but when you’re in your early 20s, your mommy and daddy don’t come to your date’s house to take you home. I was mortified and furious, but I returned to the house, calmly said goodbye to Mattie and her family, and got in the Scout with my parents. 

I said a lot as we drove up the hill to pick up my car. I said more when we got home, and the discussion continued the following morning. I wanted to make sure they never embarrassed me like that again. Looking back, I know my parents acted out of love and concern. Was I  embarrassed? For sure. Did my male ego take a hit? Definitely! Did it make a difference in the whole scheme of things? No. I made it home safely and forgave my parents. Mattie kept dating me and became my bride a few years later. 

Now that I’m a father myself, I understand that parents’ first instincts are to help and protect their children. We only want what’s best, or what we think is best, for our kids. Going forward, I’ll do my best not to embarrass Jessie. I’m doing better already. This morning over breakfast, I reminded her to punctuate her sentences when she takes her spelling test. My quizzes will now stop, however, when I pull the car into her school parking lot. And when Jessie becomes a teenager and goes on a date to the movies, you won’t see me walking into the theatre should she forget her sweater. I’ll have Mattie take it in while I wait in the parking lot.   

Oh, by the way, Jessie aced her math test. 

Happy Father’s Day!  

Patrick Hempfing
About Patrick Hempfing

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting, and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and writer.

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