My daughter Birdsnest is on the cusp of womanhood. She is as tall as my mom. The days of her playing with her American Girl dolls are nearly over (she has one friend and a younger neighbor girl who still oblige her). She’s just had her first period. My wife Holly and I are doing our best to raise her to be kind, have grit, think for herself, make good financial moves, and have a good moral compass before she enters this crazy world. Holly has a very important world in preparing her to be a woman, but as a father, our role is just as big. We’re the model for what a man, or in the meantime, boys should be like. That means we need to get your hands dirty and do stuff you don’t like. It means that we need to do masculine things and be able to manage not just our business, but that of our family. We’re doing something right. She’s a straight A student, doing many of the solos in jazz band concerts, and is working her way through the tae kwon do belt system when she’s not doing soccer. She already can cook dinner, and takes care of her own breakfast and lunch, does laundry, the dishes, and takes care of the dogs. She’s saved nearly $900 in a savings account (mostly from allowance or babysitting money) and has a single share of a couple of stocks (DIS, BRK-B) I showed her how to buy. She’s well on her way for a foundation when she leaves the nest. I’m a proud dad, but our work is never done.
Here are some things I am doing. Correlation isn’t causation, but perhaps you can gain some ideas or insights:
- Stay married. It is hard enough to raise a kid with two people, but with one you are leaving a lot on the table. Interactions and disagreements between adults in a healthy marriage are good teaching moments, as are the time we work together to problem solve and deal with the wrinkles of life and celebrate the wins. Staying married means being a strong man and leader. Same as being a good dad. The marriage stuff you can get from my book.
- Be the family leader. As dumb as this sounds, this starts by always driving the family car. It means cooking Sunday breakfast. It means taking care of the dirty work like buying and selling cars, mowing the lawn, killing spiders, and generally providing the calm rock to counteract the drama that comes from your wife. I’m the pitcher of tents, the grill master extraordinaire, and the leader of backyard campfires. My wife has very important skills and strengths as well, but everyone in my family knows who the key cog is to keep things steady.
- Be active and do masculine things. If all you do is sit on your ass and watch TV, you’re modeling a future lazy husband as being acceptable or normal, and a lazy husband is not often a good father and increases the chances of divorce. Masculine things are more exciting. Lift weights. Hunt. Train boxing. Shoot guns. Chop wood. Chop vegetables. Watch football. Listen to heavy metal or punk rock once in awhile. Do this in front of your kids and show them how to do it. My daughter is my football watching buddy when no one else but the dogs hang with us.
- Never stop learning. That may mean different things to different people, but as she evolves and learns, so must you. Read, listen to the news, understand the latest drug or craze so that you may best protect them but also to understand them. You are the reference point for the renaissance man, so you must be able to fix a bike tire or play chess, and teach them these skills or knowledge you have learned.
- Eat well, and exercise. I’d hate for my kids to trust in mass media for their dietary guidance. We are far from perfect, but we still lead by example of what are good decisions, and what aren’t. She’s seen that bread and white flour don’t agree with her complexion so is eating burgers without bread and helps cook healthy foods with us for dinner. We buy beef and pork directly from a local farmer, and my wife and kids raise a garden, everyone helping to chip in. She sees my wife and I running (the kids will often bike with us or to the destination where we meet them), me lifting or boxing, and she does a couple of organized sports herself.
- Don’t be afraid to show affection. The more love in this world the better. Yeah, love on them, but also smooch your wife and grab her ass, give your bros and dads man-hugs. We snuggle watching movies and she still is ok with her old man giving her bedtime kisses.
- Don’t be afraid to cuss. One of the funniest stories we like to share of young 4 year old Birdsnest is when she came upon a dog poop accident in our old house. She looks at it with hands on hips and says “Those fucking dogs!” After doing our best not to laugh, we said maybe we shouldn’t swear so much. However, now that they are older, we don’t really censor ourselves so much anymore. They are going to hear it, and a good swear by their dad carries some gravitas in a taboo way if you don’t overuse it. You can smile and give them a wink, and it feels like they are in on a little secret between just you two. It won’t be too long before they are jaded and the magic of swearing is gone, so enjoy this short time and don’t be afraid you’ll break their precious ears.
- Play. Play an instrument (I play guitar). Play with them when you can in any way you can (bonding happens in our house over backyard soccer, videogames, Dungeons and Dragons, board games). For spring break I took the kids to a wrist-band arcade (one entry fee and you can play all the arcade or pinball games you can handle) and we had a blast over 5 hours (Dance-Dance-Revolution was a favorite). I’m admittedly more serious, but we have fun, joke around, and all of us play with the dogs all the time. She’ll remember the hard things you help them with, but also the spontaneous dancing and fun things you did with them, or how you taught her how to throw a football or play soccer with them in the backyard.
- Be flexible. While I can often be a hard ass, I’m also flexible. I let them stay in bed with us once in awhile despite how much I don’t like it (but they and my wife love it). Flexibility is a great trait and changes routine to something special if you let it. From the Tao Te Ching:
The living are soft and supple;the dead are rigid and stiff.In life, plants are flexible and tender;in death, they are brittle and dry.Stiffness is thus a companion of death;flexibility a companion of life.An army that cannot yieldwill be defeated.A tree that cannot bendwill crack in the wind.The hard and stiff will be broken.The soft and supple will prevail.
- Love. Bottom line, this is the most important thing for raising a woman. Love and show them they are worthy of it. Daddy issues come from not getting the love or attention they crave. She looks up to you more than you or I (or even her) will realize.
Listen, none of us know what they hell we are doing as parents. We’re trying to balance all this life stuff, get promoted, have a fulfilling life. Raising a daughter is different than raising a boy, but many of the same principles apply. We’re about to journey the teenage years with her, and I’m sure I’ll have more stories as she figures out boys and jealous girls and feminism and values. Hopefully we’re doing all right, but time will tell I guess and I’ll keep playing by intuition and gut feel while doing what I do and trying to be a good and interesting man.