By Greg Beeler
There are a lot of great quotes about being a dad. There are a lot of things said about how to teach your son to be the man you intended to be. There are a lot of opportunities to coach baseball, work on the car, & have father-son time. But, where does a man learn to be a dad to a little girl? How does a dad begin to understand what life is like for his daughter? And, even more difficult, because he went through life being the opposite, a boy, where does he learn to teach his daughter without being unfair, biased, or sexist?
I’m a guy. I do guy things. I love He-Man & laugh at Wonder Woman. I use to jump my bike over small creeks & flip-up little girls’ skirts on “Flip-Up Friday”. When I got hurt, I didn’t cry because my older brother would call me a girl. As I grew up, I started skateboarding & listening to punk music. Most of my friends were boys. Everything I was interested in involved being tough, competitive, & male. When my friends started drinking & doing drugs, I did the tough male thing & didn’t do them. When everyone else is rebelling, the rebel thing to do is not rebel. So, I thought of myself as the tougher male by not giving into the peer pressure.
My brevity & machismo was bound to be noticed by the males with less testosterone, right? Well, these kid adventures & teenage years began a long road of taking the higher ground, doing what was uncommon, & showing that I was eager to become a strong man. In my mind, I was going to be a man who could pass this knowledge & strength on… to my son.
In 1996, I found out that I was going to be a dad. I was ecstatic. My whole life had been lived with the ideal of being a dad as the grand accomplishment. To that day, I had never done a drug. To that day, I had never drunk alcohol. To that day, I had made every decision based on the questions: Would a dad do “X”? When I am a dad, will I regret that I did “X”? When I am a dad, will I be able to tell my kids about “X”? I fully expected to be a dad someday and turned down beer, drugs, & women because they weren’t the actions that I would be able to openly tell my children about. I had also avoided speeding tickets, dropping out of school, & numerous other things that look bad on a dad’s resume.
Now, it was almost time for my namesake to be born so that I could tell him everything that I had waited to share. My DAUGHTER was born the day before my birthday. After she recovered from some delivery complications, they wrapped her in a pink blanket & stuck a pink ribbon on her head. Without much warning, my whole future changed. All of my masculine knowledge was now useless. It was like a large female dog came into the hospital & ate 21 years worth of homework. Will my beautiful daughter appreciate my Lego building skills? Will my daughter ever care that the gauge measurements of metal seem to work backwards? Will my daughter ever have a lustful man look at her like I’ve looked at her mother? I wasn’t prepared to answer these questions. I had two younger sisters, but I had never talked to them about life. I had never asked them what they had for goals, ideals, or expectations from living as a girl. And, even if I had, I wouldn’t have related to their answers.
Three years after my first daughter’s birth, I was looking at another baby wrapped in pink & wearing a pink ribbon. By this time, I had come to love having a daughter. I still went to Home Depot when making my Christmas list. I still took my kid with me. Except, now we had to brush hair before going to the store & we’d stop at the paint aisle to see which slightly girlish version of blue she wanted to paint her bedroom walls. She wasn’t a total girlie girl, and we found a happy medium as father-daughter.
With my second daughter, I think the pink blanket bled into her blood stream a little. This new Princess was everything that I had dreaded. She whined, and cried, and threw tantrums. She loved pink, and animals, and loved to cuddle. For everything that I thought I avoided with the first daughter, I more than made up with the second daughter. And, together, these two little women knew how to work me over. They ended up with a Hot Wheels Jeep. A pink one. They both went to Home Depot with me. I got to shop for tools while carrying dolls. As my daughters got a little older, I had to face new questions. What kind of girl is a good girl? What kind of woman is the ideal for little girls to grow up to be like? What do girls want out of life? What do women want? What do girls experience day-to-day? I didn’t have these answers, but I wanted to have them. I was prepared to answer these things to a boy, but now I owe that same due diligence to my daughters. I needed to get a lot of answers before I was put on the spot. I would have asked their mother, but we weren’t communicating so well at this point. I would have asked my mother, but I stopped talking to her after the instructional conversation about yeast infections. I would have asked my sisters, but they were still little girls in my eyes.
So, I started reading & researching things myself. How do little boys & girls differ in activities & learning? Are the two genders equal in society? What troubling issues do young women face? What are the rights of passage for girls? Should I take different safety precautions regarding drinking & drug use among young women? What will peer pressure be like for my daughters? With my family history, some of the questions were medical. How does depression affect girls? Are some mental illnesses more prevalent in women? My daughters were getting old enough that I needed to be prepared. I needed to know more about girls, teenagers, & women so that I could be a better father. Since it was my job to protect them, I started with the scary questions.Some of the answers I found frightened me:
- A girl’s first sexual experience is with a man 1-3 years older than her.
- 60% of sexually active women, age 16, had their 1st sexual experience involuntarily.
- 10% of child births are to teen mothers.
- 50% of the women that girls see in media are portrayed sexually. 15% of men are.
- In advertising, women are scantily clad 62% of the time. Men are 25% of the time.
- 70% of teen girls have negative body images.
- Plastic surgery for women increases 50% every year.
- 90% of rape victims are female.
- 60% of women with an STD were drunk at the time of infection.
- 1 in 4 women have severe depression in their life. 1 in 8 men do.
- When women drink, they are 3 times more likely to drink excessively than men.
- 21% of teenage girls have considered suicide. 12% of boys have.
From the research, I was painting a very contradicting picture of women. In some instances, women were pursued by men & considered the prize. In other instances, women were preyed on by men & taken advantage of. Some women were trying to be equal to men & succeed in politics, business, or sports to gain respect. Others were flaunting their sexuality & capitalizing on being able to get something for nothing. Women promoted their own beauty & sex-appeal on one magazine cover and then damned men for doing so on the adjacent periodical.
“A father is always making his baby into a little woman. And when she is a woman, he turns her back again.” ~Enid Bagnold