“So here’s the deal,” I said to my fifteen-year-old daughter, Tyler. “We’re going to spend a weekend doing something Texas-y. I’m calling it our Texas Heritage Weekend.”
“You okay, Dad?” Tyler asked, briefly peering up from her iPhone.
“We’re driving down to San Antonio to visit the Alamo, our state shrine, and then we’re going to a small-town rodeo to get a glimpse of what Texas used to be like.”
There was silence as Tyler read a text from a distraught girlfriend who was apparently in a dead-end relationship. The girl’s boyfriend, a theater student, was questioning the meaning of life and had no time for love. “And what exactly are you hoping to accomplish with this trip?” Tyler finally asked.
“Well,” I declared, trying to remember the speech I had devised a couple of days earlier, “I’ve been writing stories about Texas since long before you were born. I love Texas. Yet somehow, I haven’t taught you the joy of being a Texan. As far as you know, you could be growing up in a suburb of Philadelphia. It’s one of my biggest failures as a parent.”
I waited as Tyler took her time typing something profound to her friend about the fickleness of the male species and the shifting nature of love. “Okay, keep going,” she eventually said. “You want to turn me into a Texan in a single weekend?”
In fact, that was precisely what I intended to do. My daughter has spent her entire life in the Preston Hollow neighborhood of North Dallas, a paradise of upscale uniformity where almost everyone drives foreign cars and drinks coffee at Starbucks. She is starting her sophomore year at an arts magnet high school downtown, where there is no Friday night football game, no marching band, no drill team, and certainly no 4-H club. Her goal in life is to write plays about angst-ridden teenagers who are on the verge of complete emotional collapse. Recently my wife, Shannon, and I went to see Tyler perform a song she had composed for a student showcase held at a Dallas restaurant. Dressed in her usual uniform—high-waisted shorts and a vintage T-shirt—she strummed on her guitar and sang in her best Norah Jones voice: “I am a little girl screaming to break down the doors of this cell / I am a supersonic electronic atomic bomb, so things aren’t really going so well.”
We rushed up to her afterward and exclaimed, “Wow, that was beautiful!”
“Um, I don’t think you got the message,” Tyler replied. “That song was about having to live a life under parental oppression.”
I couldn’t be prouder of the girl. She has that perfect combination of charm and sarcasm, something I have spent my life trying to achieve. Still, I am stricken with guilt that she doesn’t seem to have any interest in Texas whatsoever. Her childhood has transpired only 140 miles from where mine did, in Wichita Falls, but it might as well have been overseas. I grew up around oil wells, reading Louis L’Amour novels and playing cowboy on my wealthy friends’ ranches. One day in junior high, I hung around the set of The Last Picture Show, hoping I would get a glimpse of Cybill Shepherd naked. Tyler, however, couldn’t care less. When I asked her once if she would like to buy some Western clothes, which would involve shopping at a store other than Urban Outfitters, she gave me a blank stare and said, “Dad, cowboy hats are too show-offy for my taste, and I don’t know anyone at my school who wears cowboy boots except for a couple of gay guys who think they are making a fashion statement.”
Nor does Tyler have any feel for the state’s history. This past spring, I asked her what she remembered from her seventh-grade Texas history class. She mentioned that her teacher had had the students watch the film Dances With Wolves—which has nothing to do with Texas, by the way—so they could develop a better understanding of Indian life. During the scene where Kevin Costner’s character has sex with a widowed Indian woman, the teacher quickly covered the screen with the Texas flag. “We stared at the Texas flag while we listened to sex noises,” Tyler said.
“That’s it? You don’t remember anything about the Texas Revolution? The NASA astronauts? Roger Staubach’s Hail Mary pass to Drew Pearson to beat the Vikings in 1975?”
“Nothing,” she said.
“Okay,” I said to my wife, “we’re doing a road trip.”
It’s a solemn rite of passage, of course, for Texas parents to take a Texas road trip with their kids. Inevitably, the family visits the Alamo—a trip, I’m ashamed to admit, I had never done with Tyler. Not that she was remotely interested in going. “I want to see Portland, Oregon,” she told me. “It’s supposed to be edgy.”
To help entice her, I told her she could bring along a few friends. She invited one of her best buddies since childhood, Ryland Portele, an ebullient junior who cheerfully joins just about every extracurricular organization at her high school—yearbook staff, mock trial, cross-country, biomedical research club—and then just as cheerfully announces, sometimes within days, that she’s moving on to join something else. Also coming along was another childhood friend, Ava Fechtman, a cheerleader who’s determined to get into the University of Texas at Austin and study international business. And then there was Caroline Danielson, a friend since middle school who’s so gloriously offbeat that, upon learning about the trip, she immediately went online to order cutoff shorts with the Texas flag stitched on them so she could look, as she put it, “like I sort of know what’s going on.” When Caroline arrived at our house, I asked to see the shorts. She held up a pair embroidered with the American flag instead. “Sorry,” she said earnestly. “I decided I liked this design better.”
We headed out of Dallas in a rented SUV, and just south of downtown, I pointed toward one