In My Words: Teaching my dad a lesson

Associate Professor Naeemah Clark authored a newspaper column that reflects on the relationship she shares with her father and her recent efforts to teach him social media best practices.

The following column was recently published in the (Burlington, N.C.) Times-News via the Elon University Writers Syndicate. Views are of the author and not Elon University.


Associate Professor Naeemah Clark
Teaching my dad a lesson
By Naeemah Clark –

I am a firm believer of the power of moisturizer in slowing the aging process. After a shower, I pump the dispenser of my extra-large Jergens bottle 20 times to be sure that I have enough of the cherry-almond scented cream to cover my knees, elbows and toes. I share this regime with anyone who will listen.
Early one morning my mother called to say that my father was in the street, balancing on one leg, kicking the other one back and forth and counting to 20. When she asked him what he was doing, he replied, “Naeemah said you have to pump 20 times to keep your skin looking young.”
He missed that I was talking about lotion and, as a result, he has been swinging his legs and arms to-and-fro 20 times each day in an effort to maintain a youthful glow. Mom opted to not tell him the truth.
“Not worth the trouble,” she said.
Dad strategizes his own routes around unfamiliar towns, believes women’s monthly cramps are “psychosomatic” and doesn’t wear sunscreen because “people in Africa don’t get skin cancer.” While I know this makes no sense to you, it is just par for the course in dealing with my dad.
He hears what he wants and does what he wants and says what he wants. We all know it. There’s no convincing him otherwise so we don’t bother.
It’s unbelievably frustrating being the daughter of this type of man. Still, I look at this personality trait as a gift of sorts. It has created a me that is strong, creative and clever. You see, instead of following the tenets of Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” I’ve learned to “Lean Away.”
He openly shares displeasure with any gift he’s ever been given. So, on Christmas or his birthday, I save my pennies and just tell him some piece of advice he gave was right on target. It makes him feel good.

When he established the “loser puts the game away” rules after winning a marathon Scrabble match, I increased my vocabulary and found ways to build small words in tight spaces. Ingenuity at its apex (13 points, thank you!).
Recently he tested my “Lean Away” skills when he engaged me in a conversation about how Twitter and Facebook work. For 30 minutes I instructed him on the purposes of @’s and hashtags, highlighting the power of the retweet. I suggested he look into a content management system such as WordPress or Blogger if he wanted to make longer posts, but he should avoid Tumblr because of its addictive nature. I walked him through it step by step, maneuvering between the status updates on my Facebook page and those of my sisters and cousins.
He “hmm-ed” as I answered questions about social media versus email and how to create meaning in 140 characters. His closing, “Oh, I see now,” was a version of appreciation that I don’t believe I’ve ever received from him. I was almost giddy.
Still, I’ll admit that his newly acquired skills make me nervous. I foresee a future of him commenting on everything from the Gaza Strip to Blue Ivy. He will become Facebook Famous to those who follow the “Investigative Discovery” and “The Wire” fan pages.
And when he is blocked from any number of conservative political Twitter feeds, which will inevitably happen, he will wear the dismissal as a badge of honor.
Still, I am proud of the paradox of my paternal know it all. He had to quietly listen to me so that he could achieve his ultimate mission – sharing his unfiltered voice with the world at large.
Naeemah Clark is an associate professor of communications at Elon University.


Elon University faculty with an interest in sharing their expertise with wider audiences are encouraged to contact Eric Townsend ( in the Office of University Communications should they like assistance with prospective newspaper op/ed submissions.