Our little girls deserve nothing but the best.
There are certain things a father can’t teach his daughter. I’m speaking from experience here.
I know I can’t teach her about making friends with other girls, because there are subtleties there that I can’t pretend to understand. I can’t teach her about her body with any great authority, because I lack firsthand experience. And I can’t teach her about what it means to be a girl in modern society, because I simply don’t know.
But I’m OK with that. As a man, I know I can’t be the ideal teacher for EVERY lesson my daughter needs to learn, which is one of many reasons why I’m glad my daughter has so many kick-ass women in her life.
For every topic I’m completely ignorant about, she has mothers, aunts, grandmas, teachers, family members, friends, and role models that can teach and guide her so much better than I ever could’ve attempted.
So, what can a dad teach his daughter?
Lots of stuff. Love, empathy, reading, writing, how to drive, the name and superpowers of all the X-Men since 1963.
Dads make amazing teachers, but one thing I’m never going to worry about teaching my daughter is how to be a lady. Because how the hell could a man ever teach that?
Amazingly, there are dads out there who try. They fuss over what their daughters are wearing. They warn their daughters not to “distract” boys. They impart to their daughters their very MALE perspective on what it means for a woman to be “proper.” (In the most extreme cases, there are even fathers who insist that their daughters pledge their “purity” to them, as if that’s not the creepiest thing in the world.)
Men should NEVER tell a woman what it means to be a woman.
Because… well, just say that last sentence aloud and hear how insane it sounds. When men participate in trying to come up with the cultural definition of “womanhood,” that’s how you end up with a Congress full of old white dudes voting about what women can legally do with their own bodies.
That’s taxation without representation. And, if you know your history, you know that always leads to a revolution.
So, I will NEVER criticize my daughter for not being lady-like or ask her to act more feminine, because how the hell do I even know what those words mean?
Here’s what I can teach my daughter — I can teach her how she should expect to be treated by men.
There are many ways men can do this.
One of the most popular is one of my least favorite — the father-daughter dance.
I’m not a fan of this institution. Sure, they can be innocent fun and I’m all about dads spending one-on-one time with their daughters, but I think the dances themselves send a strange message.
For the most part, these dances are designed to resemble romantic high school dances and it’s a tradition for dads to take their daughters out on a “date” beforehand.
The dad will get his girl a corsage, they’ll go have dinner. It’s very cute, perfect Facebook photo fodder, but it’s a bizarre teaching tool.
Do fathers really think that role-playing dates with their daughters is an ideal way to show them what a functional relationship looks like? It will always be artificial and weird and strangely reinforce the father as a romantic ideal (which isn’t particularly healthy for the dad or the daughter).
My daughter isn’t going to learn how a man should respect her by me pretending that I’m taking her to prom.
My daughter CAN learn something about how men should treat women, however, by watching how I interact, on a daily basis, with the opposite sex, including her mom.
It’s classic modeling behavior. Role-playing will never be a better educational tool than real-world experience.
If my daughter is going to learn how men should treat women, it only makes sense that she’s going to learn that by observing me. I’m the primary man in her life (at the moment). The guy she’s stuck with until she’s old enough to ditch me.
She’s going to learn how men treat women in a romantic relationship by observing how I treat my wife every day. That’s going to give her a complex look at the realities of an actual loving relationship (not some fake date at a community center).
And it doesn’t just stop with my wife. Her view of how men interact with women is going to be informed by ALL of my interactions with women.
The way I treat my mother, her school-friends, my co-workers, retail clerks, random women I meet in the street — THAT is how a dad shows his daughter what respect for women looks like.
So, the pressure is on me, because I KNOW she’s always watching. It’s a 24/7 teaching job for me.
I can’t teach her about her period as well as her mom might, but I can teach her a hell of a lot from my own behavior — by not mansplaining, by not getting all male-gazey, by not being weird about deferring to a woman who knows better just because men of my generation weren’t raised to do that.
I can never teach my daughter what it means to be a woman, but I can teach her what she should expect from men, in terms of basic respect, by letting her watch me try to walk the walk every day of my life.
THAT is what a dad can do.
Will I screw up? Hell yeah, I will. But, hopefully, in the end, the effort will be worth it, and my daughter will go out into the world, expecting (no, DEMANDING) an impossibly high standard of mutual respect from every man she meets. It’s what she deserves.