Let me start by saying one thing. I’m a guy. I was raised in a house full of only male siblings. All my cousins that I grew up close to are guys. None of my closest childhood friends even had sisters. It’s not surprising that I would grow up to have a career in the Army, surrounded mostly by—you guessed it—dudes. Are you getting the picture yet?
I grew up outside covered in a mix of Georgia red clay, motor oil, and blood—usually my own blood, but not always. My mom was outnumbered and should have been pitied as I’m sure our house smelled like body odor mixed with a steady stream of farts for the better part of two decades. So for the first two-thirds of my life, I’ve had no reason (nor opportunity) to learn anything whatsoever about little girls. My personal education with the female of our species didn’t begin until well into my teenage years, and it was quite the steep learning curve. Now that I think about it, I should probably send some apology letters to my girlfriends from those days. Looking back now, I was so clueless. And maybe a little scared—if I’m being honest. If I’m being even more honest, I’d say it’s rather impressive that as a young twenty-something I was actually able to convince a girl to marry me. I always figured I would need at least another decade in the school of life before that would happen.
Fast forward a few years to when my wife Torrey and I decided to start having kids. I guess I always knew there was a 50/50 chance of having a girl, and I really don’t have any preconceived notions about boys being more fun than girls or anything like that. I just was certain that God would not give me the responsibility of being a father to little girls given that I had literally no experience with them nor even the slightest theoretical knowledge about how they worked. But as it turns out, God has a sense of humor and chose to give me two adorable, beautiful, (and fiery) little redheads. So I’m making it up as I go andI really couldn’t be happier about it.
Honestly, I don’t know that I would be approaching parenting any differently if my two little girls were instead two little boys. Any child of mine will grow up with an exposure to the same things regardless of gender. They will say “please” and “thank you.” They will look people in the eye when they talk. They will be taught to give a firm handshake—or a solid fist pound when appropriate. They will grow up with a supportive community of Christ followers but learn to not ostracize anyone who chooses to believe something different. My kids will spend a lot of time outdoors with me. They will be exposed to a lot of different music and art. They will be encouraged (not forced) to play sports and a musical instrument. They will be taught how to safely and accurately employ a variety of different firearms. They will know how to change a tire on their car and use a set of jumper cables before I ever hand them the keys. They will get a job and learn the value of a dollar at an early age. Beyond that, they are going to be allowed to figure out exactly who they are in this life and, no matter what, I’ll be there for them as they do.
Let me be clear—I am not trying to raise my girls as if they were boys. I’m not trying to make them “Tom Boys” or less feminine in any way. None of the things I just listed are inherently “male” things. They are simply important life skills for anyone. It would be useless to try to “change them” from whatever they already are anyway. I learned very early that children are born with a personality, and they show it to you long before you ever have a chance influence it one way or another. Being redheads, my girls’ personalities seem to come with at least a 10X multiplier. However, another thing I noticed after having girls is that this world sends drastically different messages to boys and girls starting at an early age as to what they should be doing and feeling. And it gets worse the older they get. As a result, I think I may have become a feminist. Let me share just a few of my many reasons for that.
I was shopping for Christmas presents last year at the local big box store. As I wandered through the toy isles, I passed the boys’ section first. It was filled with puzzles, building blocks, and a number of other things that seemed like they would foster creativity and ingenuity. Then I turned the corner to the girls’ aisle. The very first thing I saw hanging from the rack was a pink toy vacuum cleaner. SERIOUSLY?! Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with “traditional gender roles” in society or a family where the husband works and the wife does the preponderance of the household tasks. And I have no problem with all the little baby doll stuff because I’ve seen firsthand how early that nurturing instinct appeared in our little girls as they tried to change their doll’s diapers and feed them bottles. That’s different though. Can we just set the bar a little higher for girls than playing with vacuum cleaners for fun? Not that it matters in the end—because it was just as easy to buy our girls’ presents from the boys’ aisle. However, it still bothers me that a toy like that is marketed only to little girls.
Look, I know the Disney princess thing is a totally unstoppable force—just like gravity, or Stephen Curry behind the 3-point line. We have enough princess dresses in our house to cover the entire cast at Magic Kingdom. But some of those older Disney movies tick me off when I think about them too much. In every movie, the princess’s parents die young and she has to fight to overcome being unnoticed by the world. Her greatest desire is to be accepted and loved by some prince before she can be made complete and happy. Can we say, “Daddy issues?” Again, I know those movies are mostly about imagination and fantasy, but girls need to grow up believing they are already complete and don’t need anyone’s approval to feel that way…which leads me directly to my next reason.
The Kardashian naked selfie generation. God help me. This is directed more at tweens and teen girls right now. If you think posting a naked picture of yourself on the internet is female empowerment, then men have officially won the gender war. If you do that, guys won’t see you as a strong, independent woman. They will see you as insecure, attention seeking, and therefore as an easy girl that doesn’t really deserve respect. I don’t care how rich the Kardashians are. Being wealthy and being respected are not equal—nor does one imply the other. If you are a girl and a teenage guy asks you to send a nude picture of yourself, know that once that picture leaves your phone you no longer have control of where it goes or who sees it. No matter how nice of a guy you think he is, teenage boys love to brag about stuff like that. So assume that it will immediately be shared with everyone in school. Is that really what you want? Say no. The correct answer is no. Again, you are already beautiful, and you don’t need the internet, social media, or some jerk with an iPhone to validate that.
So what does all this mean for me as I figure out how to be a father to these girls? I don’t claim to have all the answers. I can’t guarantee that my girls will grow up to be the conservative, brainy, incredible creatures that I have in mind. Really all this ranting boils down to one thing: self-confidence. Girls need to grow up knowing they are loved for being exactly who they are. They are strong enough to fight for themselves, but their Daddy doesn’t mind stepping in to fight a few rounds for them when they get overwhelmed. They can be brave enough to try hard things—and even if they fail, they’ll know that’s ok. I’ll be there to help them get up and try again. Lastly they need to know that they can stand on their own two feet without needing anyone’s approval to do so. It doesn’t matter of those two feet are in sneakers, high heels, cleats, or tap shoes. My life may be filled with more ballet recitals than baseball games, and I’ll be psyched about that as long as they are too. Regardless, I hope my girls trust me enough to know that all I want is for them to be the best versions of themselves—whomever God has made them to be.