Becoming a dad made me grow up. Becoming a daddy of a little girl? That is when I feel I truly became a man. It has rounded me out in a way I never would have imagined. Sure, being able to do “guy” things with my little boy, who is now four, helps remind me of my own masculinity – cars, trains, action figures – the stereotypical ‘boy’ stuff. But being ‘manly’ does not automatically instill the maturity required to BE a man.
Let me be clear – I vigorously encourage my two-year-old daughter to play with trains as much I do her princess doll and her tea set. In our home, gender stereotypes are to be bent, twisted and fractured every chance we get. That said, while far from being a girlie girl, my daughter Havynn would simply much rather pour Daddy a cup of ‘tea’ (which bears a striking resemblance to air, by the way) than race Lightning McQueen around a homemade track. To each her own.
The joy I have when we play with her princess doll, when she puts lipstick on my face, and during our living room dance parties has made me realize I am really comfortable in my masculinity. But it’s not just about the games we play. Having a little girl makes me see the world and women through different eyes. I may have thought I was progressive and sensitive to many female issues – however, my daughter gave me a wake-up call I wish for every man.
I feel for young girls who are navigating their way through this complex, image-conscious battleground in which we live. I cringe when I see the legions of young female celebrities flaunting their sexuality as though this is their ticket to fame. I shudder when I hear sexist and misogynistic attempts at humour.
Why do I feel this makes me more of a man? Because a real man is not only offended by much of what is portrayed in the media but also stands up for women who are being disparaged or demeaned. That isn’t all. When I hold my daughter, out comes the fiercest protector that I never knew was in me. And while this fire-breathing bodyguard idly waits just below the surface for the first opportunity of battle, I melt at the sound of my baby’s laugh and the slobber of my baby’s kiss.
I would like to say I don’t treat my son and daughter differently but I would be lying. I confess, I speak to her in a different tone and have to strongly resist an innate desire to coddle her. Yes, there is such a thing as being daddy’s little girl.
Perhaps it’s because she is younger than my boy, but there’s something about my daughter crying that reaches into the depths of my soul with a wounding shrill.
Psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer says that is normal. “You might say, ‘I want to raise my kids to be social equals’ but it’s going to be a dad’s instinct to want to rescue the damsel in distress. That is part of what makes us feel the macho, ‘I’m being a man, because there’s a woman who needs me.’ That pulls on our heartstrings. With a son, men prefer to give him a pep talk and mentor him more than wrap him and rescue him.”
But guess what? While it may be our instinct to feel this way toward our daughters, Alyson says you shouldn’t fall prey to this too easily. “It’s good parenting to resist it,” she says. Having a daughter also gives me access to a set of emotions not usually on display. Alyson says men shouldn’t be too hard on themselves. While the modern Dad is more connected emotionally to his children than ever before, most men are just not ‘wired’ the same as women.
“Men are just not as verbal,” she says. “Men say 700 words a day on average, women say 3,000. For men to learn to open up and show their emotions and to have that connection with their daughters – there can be a gap there.”
But that gap is closing thanks to dads like Ottawa’s Chris Read. On his blog called “Canadian Dad’, he confesses he still has not taken off the Minnie Mouse nail polish painted on him by his daughter. Chris says he never used to cry. Ever. That has changed.
“Everything sets it off now,” he says. “I teared up at the end of the movie and I was like ‘why am I tearing up at a Lego movie?’ You don’t have to be a man’s man, you can be softer and have a sensitive side and still be a man.”I couldn’t agree more.
And it’s one of the many reasons why I feel having a daughter has not only rounded my edges but has made me a better father to my son. And that’s all any man could ask for.
Antony Robart is news anchor and host of the News at Noon and The Morning Show on Global Television.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.