Parenting expectations have changed so much since I grew up that current alternative approaches to Daddyhood would give the men of my father’s generation a brainsplosion. Fathers don’t just have to smoke their pipes and yield to Mum when daughters come running up, asking for advice. They can be involved in everything from poopy diapers, to first kisses, periods, boyfriends, and beyond. Are there lots of things I learned from my dad? Yes. Are there lots of things I didn’t learn from him? Also yes. With Father’s Day (and many stork deliveries) on the horizon, I want all the new dads out there to take it from this daughter.
Embrace the “ick:“ My dad wasn’t too keen on me wearing tampons when I first got my period. I think because he thought it meant I wasn’t a virgin anymore (insert long, awkward pause here). Most men have trouble dealing with women’s issues already, but you can’t escape your own daughter’s hormones, periods, or body issues. She’s going to have questions, she’s going to feel awkward, and she’s going to want reassurance that she’s not a freak. Maybe you don’t like saying the word “tampon” everyday, but trust me, neither does she. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. Going with her to the drugstore to buy zit remedies and tampax could translate into a giggle-worthy way to break the ice.
Footsy-wootsy and hanky-panky: One day I came home from school and told my dad what we had learned that day in sex ed. He frowned and said, “that kind of thing shouldn’t be taught at school.” So I looked at him and asked, “Well, do you want to teach me about sex then?” He paused for a minute, then said, “On second thought, maybe it’s better if they teach it to you.” The classic father stereotype portrays men responding aggressively when their daughters become sexually active. Boyfriends get punched out. Daughters get locked up in their bedrooms. Dating is off the menu until they’re 34. Chastity belts are purchased. But you wouldn’t do that, you’re the modern man! You’ll let your daughter come to you when she’s ready to talk about sex, and you’ll let her know that it’s totally cool for her to do so. You’ll be honest with her (“most boys are scum, so watch your back”), you’ll be supportive (“only do it when you’re ready, not when he’s ready”), and make sure she knows how to protect herself. No matter how much you’ll wish otherwise, teenagers are probably going to have sex, so make sure she knows the score.
Get sporty: Girls like sports. We like throwing the ball around, shooting hoops, and street hockey as much as the boys do. We’re not afraid of a little dirt in the skirt. Teach her how to ride a bike, let her be your helper-monkey when you paint the house, and show her the right way to swing a hammer.
You can talk about lipstick: C’mon dad, don’t pretend like you don’t have an opinion on beauty products. We know for a fact that many men enjoy the occasional eyebrow wax, hair dye, or moisturizer. Don’t send her to mum, take her shopping for nail polish. It doesn’t make you effeminate, it makes you a good dad.
Things fall apart: When relationships fail (and let’s face it, many of them do), often kids get caught in the crossfire. I didn’t have a deadbeat dad per se, since my father still financially provided for me after my parents divorced, but I rarely saw the man after the fact. Once, I didn’t see him for three years, especially after his work transferred him all over the world. I know some things can’t be helped, but Dads, don’t forget about the little ones, especially if you marry again, have new kids, or become a step-parent. Sending a check once a month doesn’t replace your presence. I would have given back all the money dad sent our way in exchange for more daddy-daughter time in a New York minute.
(Photo: Studio Still, “Somewhere”)