Family

“I Realized, ‘I Need to Shut My Pie Hole’ ”

In quarantine, stay-at-home dad Shannon reached a breaking point with his teen daughter, Genevieve.

An illustration in which a man yells from an easy chair as a girl stomps up the stairs.
Natalie Matthews-Ramo

Shannon, 46, and his daughter, Genevieve, 15, live in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Shannon and his wife, who works in advertising, live with Genevieve and their two sons. Shannon has been a stay-at-home dad since Genevieve was 2.

This is part of “I Miss You. I’m Worried About You. Get Out of My House.,” a series of conversations between parents and their children about how their relationship has changed since the beginning of lockdown.

Shannon: I’m part of a dads group—a bunch of stay-at-home dads who have supported each other through the years. All the kids have become friends, too, so during the pandemic that’s actually been really helpful. We take a dads trip every summer. All kids and dads, no moms.

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Genevieve: I feel like your attitude is the world is a crazy place and nothing has to be boring. Life doesn’t have to be, just, “go to school and then come home.” Some random thing that seems to have no meaning can be extraordinary.

Shannon: We’ve seen the world’s biggest ball of twine.

Genevieve: Twice.

Shannon: We’ve seen the world’s biggest pair of overalls. Also the world’s largest painted shamrock. Those are in Nebraska, not far from the world’s longest telegram, which is not too far away from the world’s largest rocking chair.

You were my firstborn, and you changed me in a way I didn’t see coming. I didn’t want to do day care. I didn’t understand why I was working all day to pay someone to take care of my kid. At the time, I was an elder-abuse investigator. I said to my wife, “I think we need to have someone at home.” And she said, “Well, how about you?” And we both laughed, and then we looked at it and said, “Wait a minute, that actually makes more sense.” I’m better in that world than my wife is. She’s very alpha, very Type A personality and likes to—

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Genevieve: Boss people around.

Shannon: Yeah, she doesn’t stay home very well at all, which has made this last year pretty hard. It’s been hard for all of us.

Before the pandemic, I would take you and your brothers to activities, to sports and Scouts, and I was constantly too busy. Sometimes I would volunteer at your classes. You don’t like me to do that now because I’m super embarrassing, right?

Genevieve: Yeah, definitely.

Shannon: I can’t play my radio when I pick you up either.

Genevieve: Nope.

Shannon: But you would go to school. And that was when I would have time to write, and do the things I wanted to do. Then you’d come home and I’d put on my dad hat. When lockdown started, everyone was home all the time, and it wasn’t my schedule, it wasn’t my call.

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Genevieve: I had been nervous about starting high school. Now I have no classmates. My school is fully online. And it’s been really hard to find out what I’m supposed to do and get clear directions.

Shannon: When you take a 15-year-old and say, “Hey, basically we want you to be an office worker now and check your emails daily,” it’s not going to work. You were afraid to talk to teachers, because it’s very hard for someone your age to send an email to a teacher you’ve never met or never talked to and ask them for help. So eventually I decided that everything was on me, and I just started teaching. You and your brothers do the assignments, but then you come to me and we work it out. I’m not a good teacher. You won’t say it, because your allowance rests on me.

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Genevieve: I procrastinate a lot.

Shannon: One fight we’ve had this year that stands out for me was about orchestra. It’s a very social class, and you get your confidence from that. Now orchestra is being taught online, which is about as impossible as you can get, so one day you didn’t want to do it. But it’s for a grade.

Genevieve: It’s just that orchestra is a wonderful class to be in in-person, because you’re working as a symphony. Two of my best friends are in there so I’d get to see them every day. And you have a professional teacher who does this for a living. When orchestra is online, if you don’t know a note, you have to Google it and you have to figure it out all for yourself. And then also, when you’re alone, you hear all of your mistakes, and there’s no one there to fix them.

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Shannon: We definitely butted heads about it.

Genevieve: At dinner, you’d be like, “Well, you didn’t do orchestra,” and I’d be like, “I know.” And then I just wouldn’t care because I truly didn’t.

Shannon: You shut down. That’s your defense mechanism. Our breaking point happened one night when you were walking up the stairs. I said, “Do your orchestra,” and you said “no” and started bouncing up the stairs and that set me off. Your mom can tell when I’m worked up. She puts her hand on my shoulder or my forearm to calm me down a little bit. I don’t lose my temper very often, but certainly you know how to push my buttons. In this case, Mom took the lead on talking to you, hoping that a different face would make a better breakthrough, and I think it worked.

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Genevieve: Yeah, Mom’s a lot calmer at talking sometimes. Like she doesn’t storm off, she doesn’t snap at you.

Shannon: I think I’m more authoritative, though, am I not?

Genevieve: Well, you’re loud. But after that fight, we started a new system. Now I actually write down my school assignments instead of keeping them in my head. We go out to lunch once a week as a break. I don’t work in my bed anymore.

Shannon: I think our communication is more direct now.

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Genevieve: Yeah, definitely.

Shannon: It’s, like, these are our responsibilities, this is what we’re doing today, and also, how you doing mentally?

Genevieve: A thing I appreciate that we’ve started doing more over the past year is me telling you dumb things I saw on Instagram. Usually I would tell my friends that. So it’s like, “Well, he’s right here, so I might as well tell him.”

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Shannon: I learned how to meme, right? I do dad jokes.

Genevieve: You text them to us. They’re not very good.

Shannon: The latest dad joke was good. “So what do you do when you get injured in a game of peekaboo? You go to the I-See-You.” That’s solid dad joke territory.

Genevieve: I was you for Halloween this year. I put on your pants and slippers and sweater and buttoned it up wrong. And I went around talking about lawn mowers and the mortgage. I’d be like, “That guy’s deck looks weird.”

Shannon: Apparently I check out people’s backyard decks. One thing I’ve realized over the past year is how well-spoken and responsible you can be if I just leave you alone. I think I sometimes just get in your way and I need to back up. And that’s a hard thing for a dad, especially I think a stay-at-home dad, to realize, “Oh, I need to shut my pie hole.”

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Genevieve: I feel like I have a new appreciation for how hard you work. I don’t understand how parents help their kids with things like math. I would get so frustrated so quickly.

Shannon: It’s hard to even imagine the first thing I’ll do when you and you brothers are back in school. Nothing. I’ll be honest. Not a damn thing. I’m going to sit in a house of quiet. And then the minute that we’re all vaccinated, we’re getting in the car, and we’re going on an adventure. I don’t know where. I have ideas. But we’re gone.

Read the other entries in “I Miss You. I’m Worried About You. Get Out of My House.

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