Rachel: What’s the deal with the White Stripes? Is it over or what?
Jefferson: Looks like. With new drummers, Jack White will just have to learn to count past four.
The emails fly back and forth between my teenage daughter Rachel and myself.
She’s always been open with me, telling me things she doesn’t necessarily tell her mother or stepfather. I’m a sounding board in her life: a smart, responsible adult who loves her without wielding any actual authority over her.
This makes me “cool.”
It’s my compensation for having my child grow up so far away.
A few months ago, a breezy email from Rachel ended with an off-the-cuff query. “So, Dad, if I were to get married (like, next summer), which side of my family would pay for the wedding?”
I pondered that for a moment before replying.
“The days are long gone when a bride’s family was expected to shoulder the full costs of a wedding,” I wrote. “When you marry, I’m sure everyone will contribute. But if you marry in your teens, you should factor in the price of more dental work, because I’m going to break all of your newly straightened teeth.
Because I love you like that. Dad.”
“I dunno, Dad,” Rachel replied. “I kinda like my new teeth. But I have to tell you, I think Ray is going to propose at a party this weekend. And if he does, I’m going to say yes.”
Ray is the guy Rachel has been seeing since June. They work together, they go to college together and—since August—they have lived together.
Rachel is eighteen. Ray is nineteen.
My mind raced through the obvious responses.
They are too young to marry. They’ve only known each other for a few months. Clearly, they should wait before taking such a step. Get engaged, maybe, but hold off on marriage until after college. If they love one another now, then why not wait to see how they feel in a few years?
This much was obvious. I could be sure that Rachel had considered these factors, and I could be sure that other people had said as much to her.
Now she brought it to me—the “cool” adult in her life.
She had already anticipated the obvious responses.
She told me about the possibility of an engagement now because she had to do so. I would need to know at some point. To a lesser degree, she sought my advice, as she trusts my judgment and, to an even lesser degree, she wanted my blessing.
But we both knew she didn’t need my permission. She was old enough to vote, get tattooed or die for her country. By law, she could marry anyone she wanted.
One sixth of her life again, and she could buy a six pack of beer.
I would need a more considered response.
My relationship with Rachel is easily the most delicate and nuanced in my life. She’s my daughter courtesy of the accidents of biology and preference.
I fucked Rachel’s mother for a few months when we were in college, unaware that, at age nineteen, she was forming a lifelong aversion to birth control that would come to produce my daughter and the seven brothers and sisters that followed; the children to come from my marriage would ultimately give Rachel ten younger siblings by the time she hit her teens.
“Cum inside me,” her mother had whispered.
“The pill is awesome,” I had thought, accurately but, in this case, without relevance.
Rachel grew up with two other fathers. The first was her mother’s first boyfriend, who was lead to believe that Rachel was his child (1988-1990). The other was the man who fathered her mother’s seven other children (1990-present)—her mother’s other children to date, I feel obliged to add, as her mother is still young and no less averse to birth control than she was when Rachel was conceived.
Not long after I knocked her up, Rachel’s mom found religion. She read the Bible at least as far as Genesis 1:28. She was destined to be fruitful and multiply.
She ran into a sticky situation somewhere around the ninth commandant so long as her boyfriend believed Rachel to be his child.
She fixed that, rather messily, by confessing to her boyfriend that I was the previous patriarch and then seeking to find another.
Her boyfriend of those years is still close to Rachel and her mother, and, in a curious turn of events, a third father to Rachel and a second to her siblings, even as he continues to hope for children of his own.
Through this happenstance, Rachel has known me as her biological father since she was in diapers. At age seven, she sent me a very nice letter asking if she could call me “Dad.”
That night, I got drunk and cried. The next day, I sent her a very nice letter signed “Dad.”
Since then, her stepfather has been “Bill” and I have been “Dad.”
Now, a decade or so later, “Dad” was asked to weigh in on Rachel’s imminent offer of a proposal of marriage.
Never mind that I was still digging myself out of divorce.
I bought a little time with Rachel, and asked my friends for advice.