My senior year in high school was filled with student body responsibilities, classes, activities, and planning for next year at BYU. I felt my senior year was a time for me to evaluate and take stock, to plan for big changes in my life. And all my friends were getting contact lenses.
“It’s a whole new world!” Cheryl confided as we huddled in our band uniforms at the opening football game. “I can see things I never saw before!” I had to admit she looked much prettier, too. Her small Japanese features no longer hid behind the thick glasses she had worn for years.
I pushed my own glasses back up on my nose and considered the possibilities. If Cheryl and Carolyn and Ron and Celia could make the change, why couldn’t I? It couldn’t be all that big a deal.
Or could it? I pondered some more as my regular checkup with the ophthalmologist approached.
“Of course!” he reassured me. He could fit me with contacts. I would have them within two weeks, for a mere $200, including eye exam and fittings during the breaking-in period.
That, of course, was another problem. Two hundred dollars was a lot of money for my family in 1970. I didn’t want to waste it. What if I couldn’t get used to the contacts?
I thought some more as I bicycled home. Daddy’s business hadn’t been going well. On the other hand, I had a good part-time job. Maybe I could offer to pay part of the bill. Maybe I would have to pay for the whole thing. Would it be worth it? I decided it would.
“Absolutely not,” said Daddy. “No daughter of mine is going to wear contact lenses.” I argued that everyone was getting them. I argued that I would pay part of the cost. I argued that I would pay all of it. I argued that I had $200, and more, sitting in the bank at that very minute. I argued that the doctor thought he could correct my vision more accurately with contacts. I argued that my glasses pinched behind my ears. I argued that contacts would give me better grades in school. Daddy was adamant, totally unreasonable. He finally put his foot down and refused to listen any more. “I don’t want you to go through all that,” he said flatly. “No. Don’t ask again.”
I stormed to my room in tears. The fight had bolstered my resolve. Anger had replaced any squeamish fears I had entertained. I would show him! I was 17 years old. I had my own life to live! Nobody was going to have control over me, not while I had $200 of my own money in the bank. I fantasized that I would be beautiful, independent. I would even lose weight, maybe streak my hair. Boys would take me out. I would show that mean, old-fashioned man a thing or two!
The next day I made an appointment for another eye examination.
I felt very shy and embarrassed the day I returned home wearing my new contacts. My eyes seemed different and foreign. The feeling was not unlike the strange tingle I had in my fingertips on the rare occasions when I used nail polish. I felt naked without my glasses, but I was astounded at the clarity of my vision. And in my heart a lurking fear was beginning to grow.
Lois had had her ears pierced against her father’s wishes. I remembered Paulette with the cork and needle at the slumber party, the alcohol-soaked strings, the infection. Lois had been grounded for a month. I pushed these thoughts aside and stiffened as I opened the front door. After all was said and done, the price had been paid and Lois had her pierced ears. I was a contact lens wearer now!
My father was more surprised and curious than shocked and angry. “Please let me see them,” he said. I held out the tiny green disk on the tip of a finger. He stared at it almost reverently. “Is this all there is to it? It’s so tiny. Are you sure you can see with it?”
I felt smug, superior, vindicated.
His next question surprised me. “Didn’t it hurt your eyes when they poured the latex in?” What on earth was he talking about? Nothing of that sort had gone on at all.
“I want to show you something,” he said, beckoning. I followed him upstairs to his room. From the back of his sock drawer, he pulled out a hinged leather case and opened it. On the white velvet lining were two glass balls. No, not balls. I picked one up. Doll teacups, of clear glass, an inch in diameter and an eighth inch thick.
“These are my contact lenses,” Daddy said sadly.
I was horrified. “How could anyone wear those? Why they must cover the whole eyeball!”
“That’s right,” he replied. “I wore them three times.”
My mother peered over my shoulder. “One of the times was on his second date with me,” she said. “His poor eyes watered so much and he was so miserable I made him take them off.”
“They made them by propping my eyelids open with a metal brace and pouring liquid latex over my eyes,” he explained. “The molds were then used for the glass lenses, which fit tightly over the entire eye. It took all my courage to put them in. I didn’t want that to happen to my little girl,” he finished lamely.
Remorse filled my heart. Daddy had only been trying to protect me from the pain he had suffered himself, while I had thought he was being mean and unreasonable. I shuddered as I remembered my misery when the orthodontist had made latex molds of my teeth. Then I thought of the young man, 20 years earlier, who had endured incredible agony for the hope of being freed from the burden of thick, heavy glasses.
Daddy hadn’t realized that times had changed. His actions toward me had been motivated by memories of his earlier experiences. I understood better now the reasons for other restrictions he imposed upon his children. He had once been a young man. Events during those years had shaped his relationship with his family; and the family rules, fair or unfair, were influenced by those experiences.
I knew the remaining months I would spend in Daddy’s household were limited. I would soon begin a new life that would lead me away from home. Very shortly, my parents would not be responsible for my welfare, and I was sorry my new understanding of them had come so late. I wished I had been more considerate and teachable.
Three years later, my mother called my Provo apartment with the news. “Your father got his new contact lenses today. Aunt Jeuney and I picked him up at the train station and asked him how he was doing. He really was excited! ‘When I got back to the office, I didn’t have to pick up a single thing on my desk to see what it was,’ he said.”
Tears filled my eyes as I thought of the man who had groped for so many years and had now found a fuller measure of vision. I prayed that in future relationships I would realize that people, especially parents, act according to their past experiences. It is impossible to understand all the reasons why people do the things they do. I hope I can remember that lesson all my life.