Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Raising girls

Posted by metaphorical on 20 June 2007


Somehow, this Father’s Day was all about tattoos.

First there was an article in Sunday’s NY Times about untattooing. (“Erasing Tattoos, Out of Regret or for a New Canvas.”) Actually, first came the envelope that Juliane handed me on Friday night. But I didn’t know that.

Then came an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Roy Peter Clark, “Raising girls: Unpredictable paths certain.” Roy is usually a good writer with something thoughtful to say. In fact, he’s a good enough writer that he teaches writing and his ““Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer” has at least 25 or 30 really good tips.

This piece, though, not so much.

When I first dreamed of a daughter — back in 1972 — the dream did not include that tattoo on her ankle, or the one on her shoulder, or the two new ones on her wrist.

In my day, tattoos were for drunken sailors or escaped convicts, not for blond theater majors with eyes that look yellow when she wears green.

In your day, Roy, computers were the size of a warehouse, calculated nothing but accounting and nuclear missle trajectories, and were programmed in specially air-conditioned rooms by men wearing white lab coats. Oh, and burlesque houses were still around, so theatre itself as well as tattoos have become much more civilized and respectable. In other words, get over it, Roy.

My own Father’s Day was a lot more harmonious. As I say, it started on Friday night, when she came up from college to see her mother perform in a choir concert. At intermission, Juliane said, “Happy Father’s Day,” kissed me, gave me the small white letter-sized envelope, and told me not to open it. I thought she meant don’t open it until Sunday. I was away all day Saturday anyway and almost forgot about it until she called Sunday. “Did you open the envelope?” I told her no. “Asshole. Open it.” That’s my kid.

Inside were about 20 jigsaw pieces, mostly white, with bits of green on them. When I put it together, I saw that the green hand-painted lettering said

IOU 1 of tattoo
Happy Father’s Day

A little bit of backstory is needed here. Juliane and I have matching tattoos of the Greek letter pi that we got about a year ago. They were her idea and her first tattoo.

Ankle Pi

A few months later she added to it a peace symbol and a fraction-sign (/slash mark), the idea being “Peace of Pi.”

I liked the idea but somehow the fraction sign didn’t seem quite right. It took me a little while to figure out what it should be. Letting the Omega stand for the peace symbol, my addendum to the pi would make it look like this:


Just as in calculus, where you read f(x) as “f of x,” this would be read, “Peace of Pi.” When, a few months ago, I told Juliane of this variation of her idea, she said it was perfect. (I think she wished she’d thought of it herself. Still, there won’t be any tattoo erasure remorse.)

The jigsaw puzzle message, though, means she wants to take me for my tattoo addendum and pay for it herself. That’s my kid. Eat your heart out, Roy.

12 Responses to “Raising girls”

  1. Shine said

    I think my mom must know good ole Roy because when I got my first tattoo at 18, she flipped! Even now(I’m 32 now) when I mention getting another, she still over-reacts. I agree, GET OVER IT!! Thanks for being a cool dad! I wish my parents had been half as relaxed!

    Also, loving that you both put that much thought into your body art, most people don’t!

  2. Prabha Govind said

    I liked that common pi tataoo idea! [:)]

  3. tannerc said

    The “Good Writer” mispelled blonde.

  4. tannerc said

    Though I suppose it is a weak argument to start. Shop VS. Shoppe.

  5. Tannerc, I think Roy’s on fairly safe ground here. The Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate gives no difference at all (“Blond or blonde”). Regarding the distinction you allude to, Random House (Dictionary.com) has this usage note:

    The spelling blonde is still widely used for the noun that specifies a woman or girl with fair hair: The blonde with the baby in her arms is my anthropology professor. Some people object to this as an unnecessary distinction, preferring blond for all persons: My sister is thinking of becoming a blond for a while. As an adjective, the word is more usually spelled blond in reference to either sex (an energetic blond girl; two blond sons), although the form blonde is occasionally still used of a female: the blonde model and her escort. The spelling blond is almost always used for the adjective describing hair, complexion, etc.: His daughter has blond hair and hazel eyes.

  6. Matilda said

    I don’t know Roy from Adam, so this is possibly unfair to him, but the constant hammering on the fact that this is a daughter marking herself gives the very strong sense that this would be a very different piece of writing if a son had gotten a tattoo. In this sense, he makes my mother look progressive: Many years after the fact, she still bemoans the Mother’s Day that my brother came home with a tattoo on his calf and hardly ever mentions the Mother’s Day that he came home not knowing how he’d totalled the car.

    I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a tattoo, but I’ve not taken the plunge because I haven’t found anything that I think would be meaningful to me over the long term. And, frankly, I do wish I’d never gotten my ears pierced, so doing another permanent modification would be strange.

    The ZK just got the high-res photographs of his grandfather’s nose artwork, so he might be getting a tattoo sooner, rather than later. I’d better start working on my Victorian hissy fit now.

  7. Matilda said

    Oh, and of course I meant to say I think it’s awesome that you and Julianne are bonding over body art and you eventual tattoo will mark you, sir, as a nerd and a gentleman.

  8. digglahhh said

    Good job, Meta.

    And much more high-minded than the idea my friend James and I had to bond around a tattoo.

    The idea was “CHUG LIFE” in Olde English (itself a pun) calligraphy across our stomachs. Heavy beer drinkers and long-time hip-hop-heads, it would serve as both an explanation of our physique and a humorous homage to 2Pac’s (in)famous “THUG LIFE” tattoo. The girlfriends are not amused.

    We’ve gotten a better reaction to the idea of Mr. Met drinking a forty. That too, works on multiple levels.

    Hey, we put thought into this – constructive thought, perhaps not.

  9. In your day, Roy, . . . burlesque houses were still around, so theatre itself as well as tattoos have become much more civilized and respectable.

    They’re still around (or, at least, have made a comeback). And I don’t know in what way they weren’t “civilized and respectable” the first time. The squares didn’t like them, of course, but that’s what squares are for.

  10. Thinking said

    The big problem with tattoos is that they usually depict things you have a particular fondness towards at the time. Your opinions change as you get older and the things you liked ten years ago are the things you make fun of today. people that want a tattoo of anything should first imagine what you will look like when you are fifty with that tattoo. Dragon and flower tattoos look out of place on a grandmother, and a Fred Flinstone on a father seems a bit odd.

  11. If anything is a matter of taste, it’s whether a tattoo is out of place or not. I know several grandmothers with flower tattoos, and on none of them does it look out of place.

    And I can’t ever imagine a pi tattoo ever being dated. Am I going to someday stop loving mathematics, the language of the universe?

  12. Thinking said

    Grandothers with flower tatoos sounds almost whimsical… I would accept it too. It is when the tatoo says “___You!” on their chest it poses a problem for a some to understand. I am not saying that we should not allow it. I just feel it can be preplexing. I am sure “Metaphorical”, you could explain that to your six year old. I guess it is all in the mind of the beholder and besides free speech is in our Constitution…

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