Lost in translation

I need an app that turns ‘weird dad’ speak into something my teen understands

My daughter and I spend a lot of time talking. I’m just not sure she hears what I’m saying.

Apparently, I send her a lot of mixed messages. I often just assume she understands the subtext of what I’m trying to communicate, but I recently discovered that’s not always (or ever) the case. It’s entirely my fault. I’m at the point in my life where if I can’t think of the word I want to say, I just open my mouth and let sounds fall out, assuming my brain will catch up to form those sounds into coherent sentences. That never happens though, so she’s fairly wary of my paternal soliloquies.

As a service, I’ve decided to create an app that translates “weird dad” into the common tongue of “confused teen.” I’ve collected a few examples of actual recent conversations to illustrate how this will work.


What I say: “You’ll always have a place to live here.”

What she hears: “Don’t ever leave or I will jump in front of a bus.”

Translation: “I want you to follow your dreams, even if it means you have to move away so I probably will jump in front of a bus but that’s OK, just go.” 

I can be a little smothering, and the app hasn’t been debugged yet.

What I say: “I don’t like this song.”

What she hears: “I hate all music.”

Translation: “I have strong opinions about music, so my standards are high. Also, I hate the Eagles and Bon Jovi and most dance music.”

Maybe I do hate all music that isn’t Rush, Jason Isbell or Iron Maiden. All I know is Queen is one of her favorite bands so I’m doing something right.

What I say: “What are you doing in there?”

What she hears: “Get off your phone.”

Translation: “Come in here with your mom and me and watch ‘Jeopardy.’ Also, get off your phone.”

Like most parents, I got my kid a smartphone with the hope she wouldn’t actually ever use it. It’s probably not a fair expectation, but enough with the phone.

What I say: “Yes, you can get an iced tea.”

What she hears: “You can only get tea-flavored tea.”

Translation: “I’m going to take a sip of your iced tea, so that perfumed, strawberry/kiwi/cherry/cough syrup-flavored junk isn’t going to fly.”

Every Wednesday I drive her to her bass lesson in Derry. And every week we stop at a gas station on the way so she can get a snack and a drink – which I will help her consume. Therefore, I shall choose the flavor.

What I say: “Get up, we’re going to the diner.”

What she hears: “Get up, we’re doing to the diner.”

Translation: “Get up, we’re going to the diner.”

There are occasions when I say exactly what I mean, specifically far too early every Saturday morning when she and I go to a nearby diner for breakfast where we laugh and take selfies with the phone I don’t want her to use and sup upon breakfast foodstuffs and talk – even if she doesn’t quite understand what I’m trying to say.  

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and daughter. He gets his kid up much too early on the weekends and he uses air quotes when he talks about the Eagles “Greatest” Hits. He is also the managing editor of custom publications for McLean Communications.

More Dad on Board columns by Bill Burke

The BIG question

What does she want to be when she grows up? She has a few ideas.

The not-so welcome wake-up call

Mornings start early in our house – our teen daughter is less than thrilled

Bringing up Baby Driver

Driving instruction is best left to the professionals – I’m out

Waiting for the insurrection

So far, so good on the teenage rebellion front

How to Dad (On Board)

A decade of Disney and diners with my daughter
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