OTHER FATHER

★ ★ ★ ★

THE FATHER SHE NEEDS

By James Prenatt

When I found out that my wife was pregnant with a girl I was overjoyed. But I can’t say there wasn’t some fear in me, all the same fears any parent would have for their daughter. It’s a harder world for women, we all know that. Sometimes it’s easy to feel helpless. We’re not.

What is a father’s number one concern when they have a daughter? I think most men (myself included) would respond with the same answer—“boys”. I don’t know what to do with this worry. It’s a long way off and whenever the subject is brought up, I say, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

The issue isn’t just dating. It’s not just boys. It’s men. I know she’ll grow up in a world where she has to work twice as hard at her job in order to prove she’s just as capable as a man. My wife and I gave her a gender-neutral name that can be feminine but also sounds quite masculine, and in that regard it may increase her likelihood of getting interviews. And, if she writes, publishers might be more likely to give her work a chance.

Rules and names only go so far. I can’t protect her from harassment and I’m sure she’ll become quite familiar with what that word means early on in life. Whatever the issue is, she’ll understand it much sooner than I’ll realize, and no matter how hard I try to grasp what that experience is like, I’ll probably never know firsthand what it feels like.

This isn’t the kind of world I want to live in. But it’s not hopeless. There are things I can do. The most important thing, I think, is being a good role model. Children’s ideas and concepts of gender begin at home. They copy what their parents do and often hold that as the standard and if they don’t like it, they may try everything they can do to be different. How children see their fathers can create standards of how they see and respond to men in general.

Don’t talk about how you’re going to beat up so and so if he ever touches your daughter or breaks her heart. You know you’re not going to and even if you did, it just sets a standard of violence as the right thing to do. Just be there for her when her heart is broken. Chances are, your heart was broken once too.

Don’t claim that as soon as she starts dating you’re going to be sitting on your porch cleaning your shotgun or something stupid like that. I know it sounds ridiculous, but my family and many others made similar (unfunny) jokes. All of my siblings, younger and older (five of whom are sisters) have dated or are dating right now and I never thought I needed to be overly protective. Instead, so long as they’re at an appropriate, mature enough age, ask how they are doing instead of turning a blind eye.

My wife worries about having a girl more than I do. Perhaps it’s because I’m naïve. I do however think, that I’m sensitive enough to put myself in someone else’s shoes, and even I don’t understand what they’re going through I can sympathize with someone. Sometimes I believe men are conditioned not empathize, and instead only look at situations from their perspective. This contributes to men asking questions like, “Are you sure it was rape?”, “Why didn’t you say no?”, and “Well, he didn’t mean it that way.” The other reason is that they themselves may know that kind of man’s mindset better than the woman’s, by either participating or being complicit, which is something we need to take the time to step back and think about, to criticize instead of defend.

We need to listen to our daughters. And to all women. Sometimes that’s all people want. But their voices aren’t heard. This goes for kids in general, but especially young women, many who have sexual experiences that are scarring. As teenagers or young adults they might not have the capacity or space to process such things, but sometimes all it takes is having someone there who can take them seriously and say something better than, “In a few years, you’ll forget about this and it won’t even matter.” Listen to women. It won’t be long before you find patterns and you can learn something from that.

Ask. Sometimes men don’t realize all they have to do is ask, “What can I do to help?” “What did you want when you were young that you didn’t have?” Believe people without question. Challenge your inner voice, that side of you that wants to play devil’s advocate, that wants to give your fellow men the benefit of the doubt.

I hope that things change within the next ten to twenty years and we approach that equality we’ve strived for, for so long. I hope my daughter doesn’t have to go through the same things her mother and grandmother and all those before her went through. I hope she’s strong. I know she’s strong and I’m already proud of that. But I wish she didn’t have to be tough as nails in order to get by. I hope she has the time to be sensitive without someone accrediting it to her gender. I hope it’s easier for her to be herself, outside of gender or sexuality.

I hope I can be the father she needs.

James Prenatt lives in Baltimore, MD with his beloved wife and stepson, who tells lovely stories about bunnies and crabs. He writes fiction and poetry along with contributing to blogs such as Everything for Dads and Parent.co. He likes punk rock, good movies, and bad coffee.

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