Fatherhood – Raising a Daughter

My wife and I were very fortunate – because we adopted our two children we were able to choose their sex.    For the first, we said, We’ll take whatever comes, and when we brought home our son, we specified female on the second adoption application that we started almost immediately.    Five years later a beautiful little eight-week old girl entered our lives.   Influenced heavily by the feminist notions of the sixties, I thought that most of the differences between boys and girls were taught, a myth my daughter quickly dispelled.   I learned that little boys are just little boys but little girls are little women.    My heart hasn’t been the same since.

Just as with my son, I was very involved in her activities, including coaching her youth soccer team.   One bright Saturday morning, we were playing a rival team (probably more of a rival to the parents than the girls, but that’s another post) and my daughter repeatedly kept getting out of position, giving their forward a clear path to the goal.   I kept coaching her from the sidelines, which is Dad-talk for yelling at her with gradually increasing volume.   When she’d heard and had enough, she simply walked off the field and stood with her arms folded on the sidelines.   Parents screamed at her … I yelled at her, a bit embarrassed, I suppose … but she went back in when she was ready and not a moment sooner.

That anecdote says a lot about me and my daughter.   Unlike my son, she welcomed my involvement in her activities right through high school (Fatherhood – A Son Story is here).    When she transitioned from soccer to dance, I built sets, crewed for performances, and sat through more afternoons of thumping dance music than you can imagine unless you’ve been a dance parent.   I was appreciated.   But just as on that soccer-Saturday morning, if pushed too hard or invaded her space, she pushed back.   She wasn’t intimidated by my expertise, my powers of reasoning, or my considerable temper.   She was fond of saying You always think you’re so right (I did) and in more angry circumstances, I hate you.    My son simply rebelled when I was too involved in his life … my daughter kept me around appreciatively but flayed my heart when I needed it.   Raising daughters is tough for a man because the little darlings instinctively know how to love a father but they also know how to cut him deep.

I learned a great deal about my father by fathering a son myself … the greatest lesson being how hard a job it is given the tools our fathers hand us (if you’re interested, see Fatherhood and Fatherhood – A Dad Story).   Looking back at my relationship with my son from my mid-sixties, I learned a lot about myself as a son.    Raising my daughter taught me a lot about being a woman.   It’s no secret that many men are mystified by female behavior, books like Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus notwithstanding.   I think men come into fatherhood thinking that little girls are pretty much little boys in dresses and that their Moms teach them their female peccadilloes.    If you’re mindful, fathering a daughter teaches you that little girls are from Venus at birth, and that the experiences that shape them, especially through the tempestuous teenage years, are totally different than our own.    I’m not sure any boy could weather the incredible cattiness of teenage girl-cliques, the pressure to look just so, and the onslaught of hormone-enriched young men without permanent damage.      While I know that my daughter appreciates some of the life lessons I taught her, I’m not sure she knows how much raising her taught me about being a woman, and hence, being a man.   For these gifts … some learned through smiles and some through lashes to the heart … I am truly grateful.    I love you, Little Girl.

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