Saturday, November 3, 2007

stripper pole father

When my precious daughter was but still a growing and kicking zygote pushing at the soft boundaries of her mommy's belly, I was already preparing to be the best father I could.

I remember, then, reading a short story that profoundly affected me; its lesson has since so deeply colored my parenting that it has since become second nature.
A proud father is playing in the surf with his children, a young daughter and her brother. They are of similar age, perhaps only a year or so apart. All of them are facing the open ocean, and each child is gripping one of Daddy's hands as they kick and giggle at the swirling green water.

Suddenly, a wave somewhat larger than the others approaches, and without thinking, the father raises his daughter up and out of the water, clutching her to his hip. Meanwhile, he strengthens his grip on her brother so that he might not be swept away.
What has Dad unconsciously taught his children?
  • Girls are not strong enough to face the same adversity as boys.
  • Girls should expect, as a matter of nature, that boys will rescue them in the face of challenge.
  • Boys must be strong and must depend on themselves.
I disagree. Though it is unquestionably my hope that my Madison builds relationships in her life in which she can depend on another's strength and support -- not the least of which mine -- I am forever adamant that she learns she is capable of facing and conquering the same challenges as anyone else, even boys. That... just because she's a girl, does not mean that she can't win and accomplish and overcome... and that she doesn't need a boy to help her.

It is for this reason that I may --to the casual observer -- seem the dispassionate and unconcerned Dad. At the park, she is encouraged to climb the same rock wall as her boy counterparts. Conversely, I routinely witness other parents rushing over to their daughters and propping and pushing them up by their little butts, whereas with their sons they expect them to get up to the top all by themselves.

Mind you, Madison knows I'll be there, and that I'll stand at the bottom to catch her if she falls, but the assistance she'll get from Daddy is going to be in the form of encouragement: Come on, sweetheart, you can do it.

These days, that little monkey routinely beats me to the top.

Two digressions:
I remember a lovely summer evening in Georgia. All the parents were gathered on the porch and front lawn of Danny's house, talking as parents and neighbors do, enjoying sweet tea and idle banter. All of the neighborhood kids were playing together; Madison and her best friend were madly racing those God-forsaken motorized Hot Wheels cars.

My neighbor, with whom over the years I had developed a close kinship, asked me in a moment of reflection: "Justin, do you ever sit and watch Maddie and wonder what she'll be when she grows up? What do you want her to be?"

To which, completely without thinking, I replied, "Honestly, I don't care what she becomes. It sounds cliche, but all I want is her happiness. Whatever she wants. If I had to guess, though... let's see... she is very strong, very independent. She is unbelievably smart. She routinely kicks your son's lily-white ass. For all I know, she'll grow up to be the first lesbian President of the United States."

My neighbor recoiled in horror: he had once been a Baptist seminary student, and he was died-in-the-wool conservative Georgian besides... I had predicted that she'd be gay?
Shortly before leaving the States for the deployment I'm currently on, I took Madison to a local park in Gaithersburg. She was spinning around and around and around on one of those climbing poles. A stranger to my right on the bench turned to me and said, "She's pretty good at that!" To which I said, "She's learning how to pay for college."

In summary, I may be constantly thinking about the lessons I'm teaching my daughter -- consciously and subconsciously -- but I still have a sense of humor about it. And if she grows up to be the first former-stripper, lesbian candidate for President... well, at least I won't have had to answer the door with a shotgun in the teen years. Plus, she'd likely have hot friends.


Bag Blog said...

I found this post extremely thought provoking on several levels. I'll try not to take over your blog with my comment. And I love your sense of humor - that was humor wasn't it?

I found the short story rather silly and did not agree with any of the lesson's learned. A parent does what ever it takes to protect his children from danger - boy or girl. Maybe the dad had a subconscious thought to protect the girl more than the boy, and maybe his thought had to do with which child could withstand the wave the best. Is that a bad thing? Anyway, kids that small don't reason or have the thought ability to learn any of those lessons mentioned. Later on in life...maybe. I do remember when I learned that my older brother (by 13 months) was stronger than I, and would always be able to kick my ass, but I also knew I was smarter than he was and used that to my advantage. It was the end of our physical fighting, which was a wise lesson learned.

Your statement, "I don't care what she becomes. It sounds cliche, but all I want is her happiness. Whatever she wants." is rather cliche-ish. The truth is that there are things that your daughter may think will make her happy, but they will not. Is it wrong to direct her away from those things? Is it wrong to want to protect your children from doing the same stupid things that you did. If you already learned from your mistakes, and you can keep her from making them, why not? There may be a time to let the wave sweep them away and then help them up, but still, it is good to prepare them for the waves. Is raising boys any different than raising girls? Probably so, but more than that each child is just so different that you teach all children differently. We taught both our children to be strong, courageous, idependent, etc., but my daughter has the heart of a warrior/adventurer. My son is steadfast and amazing raising my two grand-daughters, but much more cautious than his little sister. Saturday, my son and I stood back and watched his 3 yr old daughter climb to the top of the horse trailer. He very calmly said, "Do you think she will make it to the top?" I said, "Sure, if she gets one more handle, she will be on top." Her mother (my daughter--in-law) would have had a heart attack, but we didn't tell her.

One more little thought - Although my daughter knows she is capable of doing anything she wants, she has been well protected. She also knows that someday when a young man comes courting, he better be able to protect her just as well as her daddy did. Do they teach young men such stuff anymore?

~Justin said...

bag blog: Oh yes, there was certainly humor, but I'd have to respectfully disagree with your take on the 'lesson' I derived from the vignette. Frankly, rather than ask the questions you did, I took it at face value... as an illustration of the point I was trying to make -- namely, that I need be very aware of gender-based assumptions when it comes to raising my daughter.

As for whether or not the kids are too young to learn a lesson, I'd again disagree. I think the subconscious lessons we glean are even more formative than the ones we're aware of, especially when so young.

I think language development is a perfect example of my point.

Nonetheless, I loved your last paragraph. And the answer is, increasingly, "no." Sad. But there's a movement afoot! Check out The Boy Book, surely available from Amazon. Every daddy should own it.

Thanks for giving such a deliberative response, bag.

Shelly said...

So I came by way of Lou at Bag Blog.. She is quite taken with your writing...

I will say the title to your post already had me laughing.. I am not the father nor the mother of a daughter, but I applaud your parenting concept. I thank both my parents for letting my sister and I grow up strong and independent. Thanks for the sprinkle of humor..

Phoenix said...

And I'd like to offer a belated "Hello and Welcome..."

I for one, love this post... and your style.

But then, I'm a "different" kind of girl... raised to be independent and never afraid.

You're doing everything right with your daughter.