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Dad Needed No Words To Say 'Don't You Dare Do It'

My fatheR had a parenting technique that we in our family knew as "The Look." I have never been able to master the skill myself, but I can describe it. First the head should be cocked at either 11 or 1 o'clock. The brow must be furrowed ever so slightly: too much and you look like a bad Jim Carey impersonator; too little and you just look pinched. Dad always had the right amount of furrows - somewhere between Genghis Khan and Jimmy Stewart.

The chin must be tucked in to a point one roll short of a double chin. Dad's chin, naturally predisposed to doubling, stopped precisely between one and two chins. Now you add the squint, a maneuver beyond my capacity of description. And finally the stare, which is a penetrating manifestation of unspoken thoughts and words. Dad's stare could fill the Library of Congress.

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When all these elements are combined in perfect balance, you have achieved that inimitable thing known as "The Look." I have observed that "The Look" may be given from a standing, sitting, or reclining position - all with equally successful results.

My first recollection of "The Look" was when I was four years old. In fact, it may be my first memory of life. My mother had taken down all the curtains in the living room, washed and ironed them, and left them on the sofa for Daddy to rehang when he came home from work.

I was in nursery school at the time and was heavily into the art of using scissors, when I discovered this huge pile of cuttable stuff lying neatly on the sofa. By the time Dad arrived home, I had my PhD in scissors, and the curtains were in a million little pieces on the floor.

Before I realized it, there was a 50-foot giant standing over me and my day's accomplishment. I could feel "The Look" glaring down at me. I rose quaking in my Buster Browns, as the tears poured down my cheeks, aware that I had done something wrong. I'm sure Daddy must have explained to me about the proper use of scissors that day, but I don't remember one word he said. However, I can still see that "Look" every time I embark on some questionable endeavor.

After that first encounter, "The Look" reappeared from time to time when I was late coming home for dinner, or when my sister and I were pulling each other's hair while riding in the back seat of the car.

Dad, by then, had perfected "The Rearview Mirror Look." It amazed me how he could cock his head, furrow his brow, tuck his chin, squint, and stare (with instant results) into that tiny rearview mirror. But somehow he did it, and we became two perfect little angels sitting in the back seat.

By the time I became a teenager, "The Look" had developed a new attitude. It appeared more frequently. It lasted longer, and it had become more serious.

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This new "All Knowing Look" made teenage rebellion an unwinnable contest. It's all still a bit of a blur - but I do vividly remember peering down over the edge of my bed at my mother's slippers after I'd gotten sick. She was standing beside my bed trying to figure out why I looked so green. Faintly I heard the "All Knowing Look" ascending the stairs toward my room. I knew at that moment that I was dead, as the phrase goes. It's been 30 years since that "Look," and I still haven't touched another drop of alcohol.

There was another variation of "The Look" that appeared as needed during my teen years. It can be described as "The Laser Look." It was a specialty reserved solely for one species of humanity - the boys I dated.

One of Dad's requirements was that the young man had to come into our home, sit in the living room with my parents, and tell them a little about himself. Somehow during those pleasantries Dad would always manage one "Laser Look," which said to my date, "This is my little girl. Don't you ever forget it." That "Look" was the best chaperon a girl ever had.

"The Look" finally took a bit of a hiatus when I went to college. I thought by then that if Dad ever gave me "The Look" again, as a grown woman I'd be able to ignore it. How wrong I was! Through school and then my yuppie years, the "You Know Better Than That Look" occasionally would appear. It still had the exact same effect on me that it did when I was 4. I was now standing there in my Ferragamo's, but tears were still pouring down my cheeks - and I knew that I had done something wrong. That "Look" has saved me a lot of regrets.

Last summer, Dad, my sister, my husband, and I went on an Alaskan cruise. It was fun spending time together as a family. We were all reminiscing about our childhood and telling tales on each other when Dad suddenly shot us "The Look." It hadn't changed. It was the same look he has been practicing for 50 years.

It is "The Look of Love."

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