A Daughter's Decline: A Letter to the Parents by Marlon leTerrance
Dear Mothers and Fathers,
This may be the hardest letter I have ever had to write in my entire life. Ever since I first developed fancy dreams of one day becoming a writer, I have defended you and protected you from hostile conservatives who frown on your parenting efforts. I explained to everyone who listened how difficult your situation was, how you had to work two and three jobs sometimes just to keep food on the table. I defended your style of parenting, and argued that, even though you were not perfect, even though you sometimes had to raise us up in the ghetto, you still did the best that you could.
I don't think I am satisfied with that argument anymore. My experience last weekend has forced me to toss aside all the contributions that you have made within our communities and single out a flaw that cuts deep into my soul. And even though it troubles me to speak out against you, I am afraid that I have no other choice. Please forgive me.
Last weekend, while you were away, something happened to me that you need to know about. I was riding shotgun (in the passenger seat) with my twenty-four-year old cousin. The music was turned up a bit too high and the truck reeked of marijuana smoke. We were, in a way, two everyday young brothers on our way to the local Pool Hall. We were neither troublemakers nor saints.
I wasn't sure why my cousin slammed on the brakes and yanked the truck into an abrupt U-turn. In our world, things like this happen too often to warrant suspicion.
"Yo! Did you see that?"
I was leaning too far back in the seat to have seen anything except street lamps. Still, on cue, I raised up. And that's when I first saw her. She was about fifty yards away, talking with three guys who appeared to be around the same age as my cousin. To describe exactly what I saw would be a sin. Just know that she was too developed physically for the clothes she had on. Body paint would have been less revealing and more conservative than her choice of attire.
The truck pulled onto the curb next to them and my cousin called out to the female. She walked over, more from curiosity than anything else. I watched the three guys exchange pounds (handshakes) and disbelieving expressions as their eyes followed her body movements. She was an eye magnet, and from the cool, flirtatious way in which she greeted my cousin, it was obvious that she was very much aware of her appeal.
She spoke with the experience of a seasoned traveler and there was a tattoo on her left shoulder that seduced the imagination. Her tongue was pierced and she seemed proud of the fact that she never wore bras. She was twenty-years old, she explained, and she was from "Upstate," whatever that meant. I listened from the sidelines as she and my cousin played romantic games with each other, both of them tap-dancing between being subtle and lewd.
Five minutes later, they were discussing the possibility of getting a motel room when she laughed out loud, sending alarm bells ringing in the back of my head. It was a giggly sound: too loud, too spontaneous, and too innocent. For the first time, I decided to speak.
"What year were you born?" I asked, abruptly.
She paused, confused, maybe even suspicious. I could tell she was mentally doing the math. Still, her final answer didn't add up. Her face blushed slightly, if only for a moment, and then she jumped on the offensive. Her hands dropped to her hips and her neck slipped into second gear as she prepared to lash out at me. It reminded me of the moments when I used to catch my fifteen-year-old sister doing something wrong. Instead of admitting her mistake, she'd flare up in a rage.
Using the same technique I'd often used with my sister, I made my voice become stern and dry. "How old are you, sweetheart?"
The answer scared my cousin and drove a cold, sharp ice pick through the center of my being. She was only sixteen. And she was on her way to a club, with fake ID, dressed in an outfit that would embarrass a strip club dancer.
I may have been wrong, but I made her get into the truck; I drove her home, and I called every half hour to make certain she stayed there. She was in tears, but her tears could not possibly compare with the internal tears I shed on her behalf. I imagined my sister in her place, and it disgusted me. But my anger, my beef, my rage is as much with you, as parents, as it is with her.
Why was your teenage daughter walking around the 'hood dressed like a drugstore hooker?
Please don't disrespect my intellect with the usual excuses. I don't care if she picked them out. I don't care if it's the fashion. No sixteen-year old girl should be allowed to prance around in the street with outfits on that compete with thong bikinis.
I know it's hard sometimes. Some of you are single parents, struggling to make ends meet. But I am convinced that the role of parenting goes far beyond economical support. I know you are doing your best. But in this case, that's just not good enough.
I understand that, sometimes, the situation has become so bad that it's difficult to "control" her and tell her what to do. My sister can be hardheaded and stubborn as well. But I refuse to believe that unsupervised teenagers have the right to represent themselves and their body in whatever way the current fashion dictates. I can't accept that argument.
With more and more sexual predators stalking the Internet and the streets, I am certain that you must play a greater role in the lives of your children. From the allegations aimed at R. Kelly to the white basketball coach convicted in Miami for fondling a minor, the evidence proves that you cannot leave your children to fend for themselves. Until your children reach a more mature and responsible age, both mentally and physically, you cannot completely trust them to make the best choices relating to their image and sexuality. For you to stand back either not knowing or not caring is, in my eyes, child abuse.
I don't care if you have to become private detectives in some cases, you must learn what your child is doing. To me, anything less is a crime.
I know I am angry. Forgive me. I am still young and I don't have any children, so my opinion will certainly meet reluctant ears. But I had to write to you and let you know that I saw your daughter last weekend. I talked to her and tried to give her some wisdom to take home with her. It may have helped. It may not have. I don't know. I just hope I don't see her next weekend.
Marlon leTerrance can be contacted via e-mail at Marlon leTerrance@aol.com
Wednesday, April 10, 2002