Not every Dad is hoping for a Dad Junior.
Years ago, when I told my friends that my wife and I were having a daughter, most of them were over-the-moon happy for us. But there were a few (mostly men) who looked at me with a degree of pity and said, “Aw, I bet you were hoping for a son, weren’t you?”
Actually, no, I wasn’t.
I know that’s the stereotype about families, right? That all dads want a son, so they can go fishing, work on cars, and reinact the final scene of Field of Dreams together? However, if I’m being honest, finding out what I was going to be the dad of a daughter was a HUGE relief.
Why? Because the idea of having a son scared the hell out of me.
As a soon-to-be father, it just felt like having a son placed an enormous spotlight on me that would never go away.
I would be my son’s male role model. Doesn’t that sound scary? Who wants to be a role model?
And I was aware that I would still be the dominant male figure in my daughter’s life, but, at least she wouldn’t be looking to me to help her define her own personal sense of masculinity.
That one really made me nervous — the idea of another male looking up to ME to learn what it meant to be a man.
What the hell did I know about being a man? From day one, I’d been making up this whole “being a dude” thing as I went. I didn’t have access to any ancient male secrets. I didn’t have a philosophy or any insight into maleness.
I was just a dumb guy who wasn’t good with tools, couldn’t change a tire, and had never been camping. I would be useless — or, at the very least, extremely confusing — to a young boy.
So, when I heard that I was having a daughter, a wave of gratitude washed over me. “Oh thank god,” I thought. “I’m not going to have to pretend to give a shit about Boy Scout jamborees.”
I wasn’t going to have to teach my son about male aggression, depression, or rage. I wasn’t going to have to teach him about masturbation, pubic hair, or wet dreams. I wasn’t going to have to teach him about sex and violence and how masculinity sometimes makes those two things overlap in dangerous, scary ways.
I knew that having a girl would be packed with its own unique challenges, but I was also aware that I was going to be off-the-hook for some of the biggest ones.
That’s just me being lazy more than anything, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be my daughter’s first stop to learn about love, sex, or periods. That was going to be dumped onto my wife (bless her). Sure, I’d be there to help, but it would be in an advisory capacity. I wouldn’t be taking the lead. How could I? I didn’t know what it means to be a girl.
But here comes the big confession:
The ugly little secret is that I didn’t know what it meant to be a guy either.
At least, not in any way that I could pass on to a son.
I realize that most of these fears are unfounded. Men dumber and less self-aware than I am have been raising well-adjusted sons for centuries. But I have to admit that the idea of a son filled me with far more anxiety than I ever could’ve imagined.
And, now that I’m older and my wife and I have finished having children, I wonder sometimes if having a son really would’ve been that scary.
Could I have pulled it off? Would I have been any use to my son as a guide through his burgeoning adolescence? Did I actually know any man things that I could’ve passed on? Or would just my presence have been enough?
I’ll probably never know. But I am curious if other men feel this way. So many dads I know were so excited to have boys — boys they could teach and shape and inspire. Were they totally confident in their abilities? Didn’t they ever ask themselves “who am I to be trying to teach someone how to be a man”?
Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps I never would’ve even had these thoughts if my wife had told me that we were having a son all those years ago.
But, now, as I gaze back at the path not taken, I can’t help remembering the relief I felt went I found out that I wasn’t having a son, and wonder if I would’ve risen to the challenge had just one little chromosome changed from X to Y.
I guess I’ll never know.