GARBERVILLE, CA—A frank discussion of dating gave Elizabeth Kurden and her 15-year-old daughter Claire an opportunity to discuss the failings of husband and father James Monday.
"You're too young to be dating a boy so seriously," Kurden said to Claire. "I don't want you to get in over your head. Look at me. I married your father when I was 20. He was so sweet then. I had no idea how much things change when you settle down."
"Mom, isn't how you feel about someone all that matters?" Claire said. "Troy is really cool, and he wouldn't ask me to do anything I wasn't ready to do. Don't make me suffer just because Dad never wants to do anything but sit and watch football all weekend."
No topic is too large or too small for the Kurden women to discuss, nor is any topic so far removed from the family patriarch that he can't be brought into the conversation and disparaged.
"Right now, some boys might seem attractive because they have the right clothes or the right haircut, but don't get fooled by that," Kurden said. "If you pick someone who has personality and intelligence, instead of someone who looks good in jeans, you'll be much better off. Speaking of jeans, I'll be taking you to the mall today because your father decided it was more important to fix the rototiller than it was to spend time with his daughter."
Even more mundane interactions between Kurden and Claire occasionally devolve into discussions of James and his many irritating flaws.
"The right skin moisturizer might not seem important now, but you need to start taking care of your skin early," Kurden told Claire on a recent grocery-shopping trip. "You really have to start when you're young, if you want to look nice when you get to be my age. Your father, on the other hand, seems to have forgotten all about keeping himself up, as I'm sure you've noticed."
"I've noticed," Claire said.
"And let's not even discuss those yellow marks on the armpits of his dress shirts," Kurden said.
Claire said she used to consider herself "Daddy's little girl," but in recent years, she's grown closer to her mother.
"Lately, Mom and I have been talking more about life and stuff. We've been a lot more honest with each other," Claire told reporters. "Before, if I complained that Dad broke his promise to help me with my homework or something, Mom would say something like, 'Your father is a busy man.' But now, Mom and I talk like friends. Sometimes she really goes off on him."
Between Kurden and Claire, no subject is taboo.
"I feel like I can tell Mom anything," Claire said. "I was telling her how it ticks me off when boys stop talking to you after you tell them you like them. Then, Mom told me how Dad used to tease her about her butt being too big until finally one day, she went nuts and threw a lamp at him."
Psychologist Anthony Wieland, author of Divided Parents, Conquered, said bonding over the shortcomings of a fellow family member is common.
"As happens with mothers and daughters all over the country, Claire and Elizabeth's talks bring them closer together, and allow the elder Kurden to pass on life wisdom," Wieland said. "How else would Claire learn how idiotic men can be sometimes?"
According to Wieland, husbands and sons bond in a similar manner. However, because men are less likely to verbalize their feelings, the teaching of life lessons and gender roles often takes place through role modeling.
"A man is less likely to openly discuss his spouse with his son," Wieland said. "Instead, he'll act out his feelings. If, for example, a father is interrupted in the middle of the Raiders game with some stupid question, he'll cast an unmistakably annoyed and condescending glare at his bitch wife. Then, leaving this expression in place, he'll turn so his son can see it. It's basically the same thing."