When Liking Becomes Liking

In our Daddy Issues series, a father of a young daughter seeks guidance, hoping to raise a strong woman. He looks to you, dear readers, for insight.

"He teased me again today," my daughter says, nudging her shoulder into my hip as we wobbled along the sidewalk.

"Why does he do that?"

It's nearly the same story every time. A certain boy sits down at her table, does something she doesn't like and a few hours later, I hear all about it. He teased me. He called me a name. He wanted to share my toys and asked about my weekend and I told him I had some ice cream and he said Oh I like ice cream too maybe I could come with you to get it sometime and we could have a, you know, a ... playdate and I told him heck no. And then he took my toy.

A few days ago, my wife confronted me about these little conversations.

"Did you tell her that boys are dumb?" she asked.

Well, um ... yes.

Yes I did.

I don't remember exactly; I may have used the word "stupid" instead but I think the message was largely the same. Frankly, I wasn't sure what to say. It seems every time you read an article about childhood development, girls outpace boys early on, and I swore I remember reading that word development in girls is something like 50 billion times better than in boys. So that's basically what I told the kid: Boys don't have the mental capacity to speak on your level, and so they express themselves through teasing.

"Boys are ... dumb."

She smiled widely at the idea, and nodded her head, as if she had suspected this all along, but I started to panic. I wasn't prepared for what seemed like a textbook case of I-like-you-teasing, and it all just kind of came out so fast. Soon I was thinking of phone calls from administrators and fellow parents — did you call my boy a dolt? Or, worse, the ramifications for her future relationships if she got it into her head that the opposite sex was basically a mindless class of teasing morons. Well done, dad, well done.

I don't want to romanticize her relationships with boys — all the trees and sitting and K-I-S-S-I-N-G I remember from grade school; I certainly, don't want to start setting up any barriers for quality play time with the opposite sex — play time that is incredibly important. These little incidents just started me wondering at what age attraction, as innocent as it is, actually begins.

I have no memory of it, but family lore has me buying candy necklaces for a friend of my older brother's and one time wandering away from home to knock on her door several blocks away, scaring the jesus out of my mom, who thought I had been grabbed. This all happened when we lived in Michigan, so I had to be under 4. My earliest memories of actually liking a girl in a way that didn't involve our mutual interest in Care Bears, candy jewelry and Cabbage Patch Dolls come from third grade. I shudder now at all the embarrassing things I did with a stuffed panda, alone in my bed at night, to prepare myself for the day when the human version saw our love was meant to be. I even befriended a boy who lived next door to her, just so I could peak over his fence in the hopes of seeing her. Her family moved to Colorado that year, and all these decades later I can't help but wonder if "fled" is a more appropriate term for their sudden uprooting.

I talked to my daughter's teacher to see if anything needed to be done about teasing or bullying and, interestingly, he said that teasing had occurred just one time, weeks and weeks ago, and that he hadn't noticed it since then. The whole thing has started me wondering at what age liking becomes liking and what to expect in the grade school years to come. What are your earliest memories of liking someone beyond friendship?

Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! He's still embarrassed every time he sees a panda.