I was raised with a very accute awareness of a man’s role in a developing girl’s self esteem. I had two younger sisters and my father was very clear to me from the beginning that what they heard and felt from him and me would be the largest influences in how they saw themselves as the grew up. That was a pretty abstract lesson for a little guy to absorb, but it slowly materialized for me as I grew up myself, and as I watched my sisters grow up behind me. I can certainly see how it played out now that they’re adults. In my adult years teaching I saw more young ladies than I care to count with shattered self images which could be traced directly back to their fathers’ failings as parents. Needless to say I am a passionate believer in my father’s religion (which he maintains was passed down to him by his father). From the moment I knew my first child was going to be a girl I was very clear on what my role was going to be in raising her to be a strong, confident young woman.
Self-image aside, my daughter will also have the gender equality issue to deal with as she comes to define herself as a woman. Regrettably a father’s role is considerably diminished in this areena. Assuming things are pretty modern around the household, a girl’s perception of gender equality will be largely based on her experiences OUTSIDE the house. For my daughter, most of these experiences will be well beyond my ability to control. Even so, I have to do what I can.
My daughter is starting kindergarten in the fall. For parents it’s a time that causes all sorts of anxiety because this is the time when external influences begin influencing a child’s development more than influences inside the home. As I think back to my schoolyard days I remember two destinct lines that divided stereotypical girls from stereotypical boys: science, and sports. In the eyes of elementary school kids (or at least the ones I hung out with), boys are good at both, and girls are good at neither. I am determined not to let my daughter fall into either of those traps.
I’ve already got the science thing covered pretty well with my little girl (see a couple posts below). The sports thing… that’s another matter entirely.
I’ll admit it. I had visions of my daughter becomming an Olympic beach volleyball player. After all, my wife is 6′ tall and we live in one of the beach volleyball meccas of the world. I also had visions of her going to college on a softball scholarship. I was a better than average highschool athlete myself (though it’s difficult to imagine looking at me these days). But alas, my daughter does not seem to be trending in either of those directions. She’s all girl, and would rather spend her time dressing up, drawing her elaborate fantasy princess stories, and putting anything sparkly on her younger brother than spend time kicking around a soccer ball. She does dance with her girlfriends, and thrills at the idea of horse-riding camp during the summer. But suggestions of AYSO Soccer in the fall meet with only lukewarm shrugs.
If she doesn’t want to be an athlete, that’s fine with me. The kid’s got to find her own way. But I absolutely will not let her be pigeon-holed into thinking that she can’t do sports if she doesn’t want to. We’ve all heard the phrase “you throw like a girl”. I remember that one waaay back in elementary school. To my thinking, that’s where it starts. So I told myself, she doesn’t have to be a varsity athlete. But she damn well is going to learn how to throw and catch a ball. Nobody but nobody is going to tell my daughter that she “throws like a girl”.
So on occasion, when it’s just me and her, we’ll go out in the backyard and toss a ball back and forth. Girls are so desperate for their fathers’ attention, they’ll do just about anything for it. So we sit there, throwing and catching, and I gently coach her on technique. “No. Over the shoulder. Good job. Point your elbow up. Great! Keep your eyes open when the ball comes to you.” I make sure the praise and the positive feedback is plentiful. In return, she soaks it up. It’s one-on-one father-daughter time. She gets a sense of accomplishment as her skills get better, her self esteem grows as she sees the progress she’s making, and our relationship grows as we spend that priceless time together that won’t be there when she’s 12 and older.
I don’t need her to be the first person picked for the team. But I won’t let her be the last either. And when that punk in school throws a ball at her to try to catch her off-guard, I want to see his face (and hers) when she catches it instead of getting hit in the face.
The next lesson is how to paint his ass when it comes her time to throw it at him at dodge-ball.