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Better for daughters, better for sons

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There is nothing like one of the brats having a birthday to make a man feel old. My eldest daughter, Jennifer, turned 24 on Thursday. To mark the occasion we went for dinner at Rae and Jerry's, which is a nice change from McDonald's.

At the table, there was, of course, the birthday girl herself and Megan, a friend of hers who is about the same age. There was a close family friend, Bob, who is in his 80s, there was me, who is kind of 60ish -- not that I'm trying to be coy about this -- and my wife, Jen's mother, who believes she is still in her 30s and I am not about to argue with that. If there's one thing you learn during a 40ish-year career in the newspaper business, it is survival skills.

Rae and Jerry's might seem like an odd place to take a 24-year-old woman for her birthday -- it's been around forever, almost as long as the old folks who were at the dinner (except, of course, for my 29-year-old wife) so it's comfortable for us and if there is any music blaring, you can't hear it anyway because of the lawyers laughing loudly into their martinis at the table two stops down.

But curiously, all my kids have liked it. My younger daughter, Katie, chose it for her 21st birthday dinner, although that may be because her mother refuses to go any place where you can hear the music from the parking lot.

Restaurants, in any case, are really about food, and that's what they go for -- they are nothing if not pragmatists -- but I think one of the reasons they like this one is they love to talk and there they can actually hear themselves.

So, of course, can everyone else in the restaurant, which is sometimes a problem. They are, after all, 21st-century women, not the demure little debutantes that I grew up with, and they appear to believe there is absolutely no subject on God's green Earth that is not open to public, forceful -- dare I say loud? -- and graphic discussion. One tries not to blush.

There were times during the dinner when I thought Bob would slide under the table and sneak away into the night. My 25-year-old wife sat through this with equanimity. Put a steak and a caesar salad in front of her, and she could cheerfully eat her way through the Fukushima tsunami. But there were times when I wanted to cover my head with a napkin. A senior journalist with all the dignity and gravitas 60ish years bestow on a man should not have to experience an entire restaurant hearing, "Oh, Dad, you're so cute" or the suggestion that Dad should dye his hair blue -- or perhaps green -- to improve his appearance.

I don't, incidentally, intend to dye my hair blue -- it's a dumb idea; there is so little of it left that it would just look like scattered ink stains anyway.

But I am proud of my daughters and I am impressed by their friends. If I don't want to talk about dying my hair, they can talk to me intelligently, even if they do throw in the occasional giggle or ribald comment, about the plight of women in Afghanistan or crime in the core area or why they don't like Stephen Harper (who, incidentally, doesn't seem to be particularly popular among this demographic).

They are the women who are going to change the face of history. They may not be exactly what the feminist pioneers of the 1960s, such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, had in mind when they tried to bulldoze my generation of men out of the way. They sometimes wear a little makeup, they like to look pretty when they're playing, when they're working and even when they're working out. They like men as individuals if those men are worth liking and they don't feel any resentment to men as a social group of subhumans.

They don't wonder what they can do with their lives. They wonder what they will do with their lives because, as far they are concerned, it's their choice, their pick -- the world is their oyster.

Guys used to feel like that and probably still do, but for women that enlightenment has been a long time coming.

When Friedan and Steinem were preaching, it wasn't common. Mostly, the only women who learned they could break loose, be themselves, be free, even with the heavy price freedom carries, were the young women who fell on hard times, were abandoned and found they could actually look after themselves even though almost everything in society was geared against them.

My daughters don't have to cope with that. Women like my wife, who must be getting close to 20 years old by now, did have to cope with it and they made, through their efforts, a better world for their daughters.

And by making it better for their daughters, they also made it better for their sons, who grow with a clearer concept of how reality should work and a clearer understanding of how tough and intelligent their sisters actually are.

I am grateful that my wife taught my daughters they can tease me -- mock me, if you prefer -- make fun of me and even challenge me in a public restaurant for everyone to hear. Parents are kind of exercise machines their children use to develop their minds and like all exercise machines, you have to bring them out of the basement sometimes.

But I am still not going to dye my hair blue.

tom.oleson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 10, 2011 A18

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