Happiness Is a Warm Gun

If you wanted to date me, you had to go through my father—and his rifle

The trouble began in high school with Mike Sheridan. He was a grade older than me and the only reason I was even aware he existed was because I had to walk past the baseball diamond to get to the gym for volleyball practice after school.

I surreptitiously admired Mike Sheridan's behind from its bent-over crouch in the infield. And apparently, Mike must've taken note of my taking note because on a Wednesday night around 9 p.m. he knocked on my front door. My dad answered while nonchalantly cleaning a Smith & Wesson .22 caliber rifle.

As the story goes (all of this happened while I lip-synced Pat Benatar's "Heartbreaker" into a hairbrush, unaware in my bedroom), Mike asked my dad if I was available.

Dad, who resembled Robert "I Dare You to Knock It Off" Conrad, squinted casually down the barrel of his gun while considering Mike's request. Then he looked him dead in the eye and said, "Don't you think it's a little … late?"

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Mike fled, and word about my rifle-toting father apparently got out. I was homecoming queen in my senior year and sadly, no one asked me to the dance. At the last second, my parents took pity and arranged for a "family friend" to be my date.

I thought I was permanently boy repellent until several months later when Vance Schmitz took his life in his hands by jogging up to me on the quad and asking me to the prom. I was so relieved (all of my friends were asked weeks earlier) until my dad informed me that I had to be home by 11 p.m.

What universe was I living in? Amish country? A Benedictine nunnery? Vance dutifully returned me to my domicile at exactly 10:55 pm. I checked in with my dad, the warden, and then hunkered down under my Holly Hobbie bedcovers, steaming mad at my incarceration.

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A few moments later, there was a knock at my bedroom window. I lifted the curtain to see Vance standing there with a getaway car idling at the curb. He asked if I could slip away to join him in a hot tub at Jerry Proctitis's house. He didn't have to ask me twice.

What happened in the hot tub stays in the hot tub. Let's just say I didn't lose my virginity there, but the Kraken had been unleashed. Afterwards, Vance parked his car a good half-mile from my house and walked me home, both of us with sopping wet hair, me clutching my dripping bikini in my left fist.

I remember feeling so sexy, beautiful and free right up to the moment when I tried to open my bedroom window. It wouldn't budge. Someone had locked it—from the inside!

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"Shannon," a familiar voice rose from the darkness, "You've slit your own throat."

It was my dad, the Kraken slayer.

Vance hightailed it out of there and that was the last I ever saw of him. Years later, he ran into my sister at Chick's Sporting Goods and asked her to apologize to me for his sketchy behavior.

"Mike Sheridan," he explained, "told me about your dad's gun."

I had always resented my father for being so overprotective until my eldest daughter Clare turned 14. She came home the other day with a "friend" from school named Zach.

"I don't like that kid," my husband grumbled, his eyes scrutinizing Zach as he spun and flipped on our outdoor trampoline. "He's got too much game for a boy his age. He walks into our kitchen, opens our refrigerator without asking, grabs a Coke, takes a swig, then looks over at me and does the head nod and says, 'Hey, dude.'"

"He called you 'Dude'?"

"Yeah, then he wanders into our younger daughter's room, hangs out in there for a while, reappears to grab an apple on his way to Clare's room, only this time when he gives me the head nod he says, 'Hey, man.'"

"What the fuck? What're you going to do about it?" I asked, but then it hit me what we should do.

So I called my dad. I thanked him for being such a vigilant parent and he just said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever." But I could tell he was pleased.

Then he told me that I'd have to buy my own gun.