I’m not going to lie, when I first heard that we were having a girl, a small tinge of disappointment hit me; I’d really been hoping for a boy. I know, turn me in for the jerk-of-the-year award. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a girl, it was just that I didn’t know how I would relate to, or help raise a sex that preferred tea parties to a rugby match.
It was easy to imagine how I would bring up a boy. Strict discipline mixed with love and honor, lessons of wilderness survival, famous battles, endless wrestling matches and instruction in being a gentleman. A girl on the other hand? The idea terrified me. Pictures of puberty, boy band concerts, awkward dad moments and an embarrassed/annoyed daughter helped convince me that I wasn’t cut out for the task of raising a daughter.
Part of my misunderstanding came from being raised as an only child, growing up around boys via various sports teams, then attending a military academy with a 6:1 guy to girl ratio. Let’s just say, while I appreciated the opposite sex, I knew very little about them other than they confused me and smelled nice.
Then my daughter was born and my theories were immediately tossed out the hospital window. She was beautiful, and I quickly took to being her father. She was mine and I was hers. My heart melted inside me the first time I held her and later, when she said “Dada!” and held out her arms to hug me. The fears I once had about not being able to love a girl as much evaporated as I became the ridiculously proud parent I’d always mocked.
Now, my daughter is still just a toddler, so I know that I have many, many lessons still to learn (a fact that nearly kept me from writing this post in the first place). The teenage years still loom ahead like a storm on the horizon taunting me…with tongue piercings and glittery lip gloss. But, even with only a short time under my belt, my daughter has taught me some incredibly important lessons that I never would have picked up had she not blessed my wife and me with her presence.
1) Men are born to protect. Regardless of whether it has gone out of fashion in today’s society, deep in the heart of every man is a desire to protect his loved ones. To make sure that they feel safe when you’re around, like the calming presence of a strong lion protecting the rest of the pride. Though I’m sure that this instinct is there with boys as well, the strong conviction I have to protect my daughter is greater than nearly anything I’ve felt in my life. It isn’t a feeling that has to be worked up, it’s just there, like cement, daring someone to move it.
Taking on the protector role means carrying yourself a bit differently. Rather than wandering aimlessly down any dark alley, I now am more aware of my surroundings and where I am taking my baby. I also find myself a bit less sympathetic when other people’s reckless actions invade my daughter’s life. I used to work out mostly for vanity; I wanted to look good. Now, I work out knowing that I could be the sole person standing between an intruder and my wife and child. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the time I’ve spent developing intimidation tactics for future boyfriends. Good luck Johnny brace-face.
2) Girls keep a man’s heart from growing too hard. Perhaps it’s because I went to a military academy, or spent too much time watching “Gladiator,” but I realized after the birth of my daughter that my heart had grown a bit hard. My compassion, patience and grace were all lacking. I firmly believed that “second place was the first loser,” “Pain was just weakness leaving the body,” etc. I had great pride in the discipline and efficiency through which I ran my life and home. These tough-guy attitudes suddenly seemed a bit ridiculous as I would look into the eyes of an innocent little girl content with blowing bubbles, chasing butterflies and eating copious amounts of cheese.
It’s not that I have now become a bumbling mess of emotion and softness since the birth of my daughter, but I have allowed myself to accept that not everything in life is simply a resource that must be dedicated to some ultimate victory. If we don’t get all of our chores done it’s not the end of the world. My car used to be spotless, now it has crushed cheerios and toys strewn about the back seat…who cares! With a child in one’s life, schedules and plans become much more flimsy. When my daughter cries I don’t try to numb the pain with a motivational talk, I just hug her. She’s kept my heart clean.
3) Every girl is some man’s daughter. There is no doubt that certain levels of sexism still remain alive in our culture today. Until I had a daughter I gave the idea very little thought. It had no direct impact on me, and I tried my best to be respectful to women, so why should I care? Raising a daughter and beginning to think about her future has caused me to reconsider my views on sexism, the glass ceiling, even the role of women in the advertising and entertainment industries. I’m sure most guys are like I was, giving a sigh and roll of the eyes when HR begins their annual training on sexual harassment, but things are a little different when the victim could someday be your daughter.
I once heard a lecture concerning America’s sex-saturated society. The gentleman discussed pornography, sexual addiction and abuse, but one comment caused the whole audience to go startlingly silent. “Every time you choose to view pornography, attend a strip club, solicit a prostitute, or in any other way, treat a woman like a piece of flesh rather than a person, remember one thing: That girl is some man’s daughter.” Men sat silently, the ones with daughters trembled at the idea of some man treating their daughter with such disrespect. Women aren’t just peers, co-workers, friends…they’re daughters.
4) Slow down. The other day my friend and I were walking to the library with my girl. She just learned to walk a few months ago so she was a bit sporadic. Speeding up, giggling, slowing down, stopping to pick up a stray leaf. As we watched her take in the world around her, my friend commented, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if a walk to the library was this much fun?” I chuckled for a moment, but realized this was one of the true blessings having a small child in my life brought to the table. The reminder to slow down and enjoy the small, seemingly insignificant moments of life. The ones that I had previously tried to fast forward or multi-task my way through.
I once heard a friend’s mom tell her kids before leaving on a long trip overseas, “Wherever you are, there you are.” The sage words have stuck with me for years as they reveal a life philosophy which refuses to take a moment for granted. How often do we talk to our friends while trying to check our e-mail on our iPhone, or let our minds think about the rest of the day’s errands as a loved one tries to connect with us? Children live life much differently; they take their time, fully engaging one task at a time, not too concerned with what lies ahead or behind. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them.
5) Living for someone else.
“No man has ever risen to the real stature of spiritual manhood until he has found that it is finer to serve somebody else than it is to serve himself.” – Woodrow Wilson
Marriage is the first lesson most of us receive in learning to live for someone other than ourselves. And just when we start to think we might have that lesson down, children shatter all our notions of self-righteousness. Waking up at all hours of the night, changing diapers, feeding, cleaning…all these things are necessary parts of raising a healthy child, and they have been pivotal in forcing me to abandon some of my selfish habits. My daughter could care less about my well-thought-out schedule or whether or not I have a flight early the next morning. She continually challenges me to love her regardless of convenience.
I wrote previously that one of the greatest tests of manhood is whether or not one has learned to abandon their life in the service of another. This idea makes some people’s skin crawl, but thus far it’s been one of the truest indicators of real manhood I’ve been able to find. It doesn’t take much effort to be selfish. In fact, it’s one of the most natural ways for us to live. Children plop into our lives as miniature insurgents, waging war with our lifestyle of “me first.” My daughter has opened my eyes to the beautiful struggle parents face in giving their lives to their children. It isn’t comfortable, and often times it flat out hurts, but it builds a depth of character that can only be understood by others who have traveled a similar path.
For years men have been raising daughters into young women. It used to scare me, it still scares me, but I’ll give my life away in pursuit of it any day.
Listen to our podcast on raising girls vs. boys: