Dads & Daughters

One of the best things my dad ever did was making   me feel that he thought having daughters was just as good as having sons. I think it’s normal for men to want to have sons as it is for women to want daughters. Most of us look forward to sharing the childhood experiences we enjoyed with our own children. We also live through our kids a little, hoping our children will be the ballerina or Major Leaguer that we never were. However, parents still unwittingly limit their children based on gender.   We do it in more subtle ways than in the past, but we still steer girls and boys in certain directions based on their gender. The way a father spends time with his girls can go a long way toward ensuring her future success, especially if a father shares his interests in the same way he would with a son. That father-daughter bonding time builds self-confidence and helps to cement the idea that she really can do and be anything.

Me with my dad and our matching Budweiser visors.

The world was changing by the time I was growing up in the ‘80s. Parents could dream just as big for their girls as they could for their boys.   When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sworn in as a Supreme Court Justice she said of her own mother, "I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve and daughters are cherished as much as sons." Thank goodness those days are gone.

Grandpas matter too. He paid me to help paint the fence so I could save money to attend Space Camp.

While sex selection and infanticide remain a problem in developing nations, girls in the West are cherished as much as sons. When I was about eight or nine I suggested that my dad was taking me hunting in lieu of a son. He corrected me emphatically, “No. I never wanted boys. I wanted girls that could do all the things that boys do - just do them better.”   I believed him. He never made me feel like I was a replacement for a son, he made me feel that I was equal to a son. He gave me gun for my eighth birthday, he taught me about sports, we talked about history and politics and we went to military air shows. This was important to me (and I think my sister) not because these were “guy things,” but because our dad was excited to share his interests with us. He wouldn’t have treated a boy any differently. By contrast, when my mom was growing up her brothers learned to fix cars and build things while she was in the farmhouse doing their laundry. Those days may be largely past, but fathers still play a key role in making sure their girls aren’t limited by gender.

I learned about football (Iowa Hawkeyes) and swearing.

I see many men of my own generation (and the generation right before) sharing their knowledge and hobbies with their children, which is really the best thing dads can do - especially for their daughters. Despite all the gains we’ve made in society, the odds are still stacked against our daughters becoming engineers, members of Congress or corporate CEOs. If we are to improve those odds dads will play a huge role in making those societal changes. If women are to achieve economic and professional parity with men,   that sense of equality should come from the first men to influence us. It doesn’t matter if a father’s interests are music, sports, video games, the arts...what matters is that they take the time to teach their girls about the things they like. They may still have to attend tea parties with teddy bears and argue about the appropriate age for wearing makeup, but fathers who include daughters in their own interests and revel in her passions (even if that does mean attending the ballet) are more likely to have an achievement oriented daughter.