There are almost as many lists with titles like “9 Things Every Dad Needs to Teach His Daughter” on the Internet as there are cat videos and the trouble with lists like these is that every relationship between a father and daughter is completely unique. Writers get around this inconvenient truth by using treacly sounding cliches like “Teach your daughter she’s special.” Well, duh. Isn’t teaching your kid that you think they are incredibly special a central focus of being a parent? These lists also never answer the more pressing question for some guys, which is “ow do I teach my daughter she is special?”
Now I decided to try my hand at making a very specific list of some things I’ve been trying to teach my daughter and the way in which I’ve been trying to get those lessons across, in the hopes that maybe some of it is stuff you want your daughter to know too.
1. I want my daughter to know I’m there for her. I think a lot of dads—especially dads who grew up without sisters or in households with strict ideas of how to “be a man”—sometimes struggle with how to act nurturing toward their daughters. In an effort to compensate for their perceived lack of feminine understanding, they may buy lots of stuff for their little girls in an attempt to make them feel special, or “like a princess.” As a writer, I’m not bathing in a hot tub full of money, so I can’t show my daughter that she’s special with expensive gifts. She doesn’t get dolls or jewelry or video games; instead, she gets me and my time and focus (which might sound lame to you, and in all honesty, I kinda suck, but my daughter doesn’t know that yet). I’m not sure that even if I did have a Hot Tub Cash Machine I would do anything differently. My gifts to her are putting the phone and computer down and walking her to school in the morning, going out for basketball shoot-outs before dinner, taking half an hour and working on her homework together, and (when we’re lucky enough) kayaking around the lake, just the two of us, while we’re on vacation. Simply showing up to a Girl Scout event or a basketball game and being in the moment (and not on the phone) is all your girl needs to feel like you think she’s the most important person in your world. You know what they say: “Making sure you are taking time to be there for your daughter is worth more than any American Girl Doll knock-off that you bought on the bus from a man wearing a cape and a top hat.”
2. I want my daughter to know how to avoid getting punched. After pouring over many Internet lists about what dads should teach their daughters, I’ve discovered that many of them are sort of obsessed with teaching their daughters how to “throw a punch” and “fight.” If throwing a punch is something every dad should teach his daughter, does that mean a pacifist Quaker dad who clings to his deeply held beliefs and is teaching his daughter the art of non-violent resistance is doing something wrong? On these lists, the importance of learning to throw a punch is always explained as a way for her to learn how to defend herself in case of a physical altercation—but isn’t avoiding contact in a physical altercation just as important? Instead of fetishizing teaching our daughters how to “throw a punch,” shouldn’t we be equally enamored with teaching them how to bob and weave? It just so happens that I do teach my daughter how to box (at least, to the best of my very limited ability) but we do it because it’s a fun activity for us to share together, and it helps keep my spare tire at bay. When it comes to fighting, instead of teaching my daughter how to simply “throw a punch,” I’m teaching my daughter how to rise above, walk away, and if all else fails, how to duck, bob, weave, and run her way out of trouble if need be.
3. I want to teach my daughter that women are just as funny as men. My son is 10 and he thinks the diarrhea song is hilarious. I’ve tried to explain to him that no one over the age of 11 likes the diarrhea song, no one over the age of 11 even likes saying the word “diarrhea” because if you’re saying “diarrhea” and you’re between the ages of 12 and 100 something is happening that is either embarrassing, gross, worrisome, or a combination of all three (especially if you find yourself needing to say it in the checkout line at Target). On the other hand, my daughter has natural comic timing and the best one-liners in the family, but she is in constant comic deference to her poop-joke-loving older brother—it’s like somehow she’s decided that her humor takes a backseat to his. While my son will probably be funny someday when he gets out of his “dookie phase,” my daughter is already funny but just doesn’t realize it. I want to teach her that she is funny, and women are funny, despite dumb statements to the contrary from people who have never made me laugh—people like Christopher Hitchens, Adam Carolla, and Muammar Gaddafi. Combatting ridiculous gender ideas that have seeped into popular culture like “women aren’t funny” is going to be one of my toughest jobs as a dad, and while it’s important, I look forward to it about as much as look forward to my son singing the diarrhea song during long car rides.
4 I’m going to teach my daughter that there is no limit to what she can do, and I’ll back up my claim. It’s great to tell your daughter she can be anything when she grows up, but it’s difficult to make her believe you’re not full of, as my son would say, “dookie,” without real-world evidence to prove that claim. So yeah, I watched the Democratic National Convention with my daughter, and she watched Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech as she became the first female presidential candidate for one of the two major parties (honestly, my daughter and I thought it was sort of a snooze-fest of a speech, but I guess making history isn’t always exciting). Anyway, the point is, now when I tell her she can be anything she wants to be if she puts her mind to it, and she looks up at me with her big brown eyes and asks, “Even President?” I can say “Of course, honey!” without using the same voice I use when she asks me what the Easter Bunny bunny does when it’s not Easter.
5. I’m going to make sure my daughter knows how much I’ve learned from her. I had this dream of teaching my daughter about all my “cool” favorite bands. She was going to be the only kindergartner who knew all the words to Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That”…but instead, she loves Katy Perry. That’s cool. I’m no music snob, and I’m certainly not about to be a music snob when it comes to my own daughter. So I listened to Katy Perry with my little girl…and then I listened to Katy Perry again wondering if I had missed something. It took me a little while but eventually I got there—she makes fun, up-tempo pop music that’s great for middle-aged men to listen to when they are jumping rope, and a lot of her later work has very empowering messages for young women like my daughter. What’s not to like about Katy Perry’s oeuvre? And this is the thing a lot of these lists miss: My daughter gets me to expand my mind, to try different things, to do things that are outside of my comfort zone. When we talk about the things fathers need to teach their daughters, we turn it into a one-way street, and we fail to acknowledge everything we get and learn from them in return. Sure, I could make a hundred lists with all the things I want to teach my daughter, but there is simply not enough room on the Internet to list everything she’s already taught me. So instead, I’ll just sum it by saying, “Thanks for turning me on to Katy Perry, kid.”