A Knock at the Dork
By Tony Kornheiser, The Washington Post, Sunday, October 12, 1997
This is not about my daughter. I don't have a daughter. And her name
is not Elizabeth Lauren Kornheiser, and she is not 14. But if I did
have a daughter, and if she were in ninth grade, and if she did play
junior varsity soccer, then she would not want me anywhere near her
games. She would not want me to walk the street within 15 feet of her,
because someone might think us related. She would most emphatically not
want me to mention her in a column, because then people would know I am
her father. That would be humiliating for her, because I am a dork.
I was not a dork when she was 8.
When she was 11, I became an apprentice dork. At 12, I made the
varsity, with full dork privileges. Now that she's 14 I am the sheriff
of Dorkingham. I am the Dork in Chief. I am Pope Dork II.
We'll be in the car, and I'll ask something innocent, like, "Do you have
any tests today?"
There'll be no response, so I'll say again, "Do you have any tests
She'll say with some disgust, "That's the second time you've asked that
"I want to know if you have any tests today!"
And she'll say, "You're boring me. Can we just drop this conversation?"
Conversation? This was conversation?
My sins are too numerous to list. They include that I "wear my hat
wrong." Just the other day my daughter insisted she couldn't do her
homework because, and I quote, I "eat too loudly."
I was eating a cheese sandwich. How much noise could I have been
"Wait until she's 25," I have been told. "Then she will come around."
Great. By then she can come around to the nursing home.
This has been a breakthrough year for me and my daughter, however, in
that I am finally actually allowed to attend her soccer games. But
there are certain rules I have to follow:
I have to sit quietly with the other parents, who have been similarly
I cannot stand up. I cannot wave. I cannot shout. I cannot do
anything to indicate whose parent I am or that I have any interest in
any particular player's performance. I cannot criticize the ref.
"Can I clap?" I asked.
"Um, okay, but not loudly," my daughter said. "Don't embarrass me."
"I'll clap inwardly," I promised. "My spleen will rejoice at your good
When I got to the first game, I saw a crowd of about 50 people, and I
immediately knew precisely where I was supposed to sit: Tucked in a
corner of the stands with a group of 10 or so chastened-looking adults
who all appeared to be on Thorazine -- obviously, the parents. I did
pretty well for the first half, and then disaster struck. My daughter
made a nice kick, and I leaped up and shouted proudly, "Elizabeth!"
So I'm standing there, having broken the cardinal rule. The word is
barely out of my mouth when I realize that all the other parents are
staring at me.
The "Elizabeth!" is still echoing in the air, and I stammer, " ... um,
Elizabeth, yes, the Queen of England. Elizabeth II. A jolly good
queen. So sorry about Diana," my voice getting softer all the time, as
I slink back in my seat.
Anyway, people tell me not to worry, because all 14-year-old girls are
like this -- they all think their parents have cooties. My friend Gino
warns me that it will get worse before it gets better. When his
daughter was 14 she thought he was a dork, too, but at least he saw her
every once in a while for as many as 10 minutes at a time, in the car,
while ferrying her to and from social engagements. A few months ago his
daughter turned 16 and got her driver's license. Now Gino sees her only
at 6:08 every morning when she bursts into his bedroom, turns on the
light and bellows to no one in particular something like: "Where the
heck are my clean bras?"
As a parent of a girl and a boy, I can tell you there is a big
difference between the two. Let's use the example of each child saying,
"Dad, take me to the mall."
What a boy means is, "Dad, take me to the mall."
What a girl means is, "Dad, drop me off outside. Don't let any of my
friends see you. If you go inside the mall and you see me, pretend you
don't. And don't ask me the names of any of the boys. And please put
on some clothes that match. And if you go into a record store, don't
move your head along with the music. It's terribly dorky. Oh, and can
I have $20 for earrings?"
And speaking of earrings, did you see that President Clinton is being
fitted for hearing aids? I guess he sat too close to the loudspeakers
all those nights he didn't inhale. Supposedly, Clinton is deaf to
sounds of certain pitches, and news reports stated that this means there
are particular words he cannot make out. They did not specify what
those words were, but I have secretly obtained the official list. Here