Have you ever watched a grown man melt into the floor while his 3-year-old daughter pulls his hair into tiny ponytails and adorns him with a tiara? I have. It's phenomenal and hysterical and adorable. Ever listen to a grown man explain to his 5-year-old daughter what little boys are like? I have. It's somewhat unsettling but definitely significant. Our daughter has taught us patience and empathy like we've never known before, and I've watched my husband teach her the things fathers should teach daughters by the time they're 7 years old.
These lessons, taught by my husband to our daughter, can be taught by anyone, really. It's definitely worth mentioning (and remembering) that single mothers, two mothers, polyamorous parents, transgender parents, and grandparents or any other combination of caregivers you could possibly imagine, can instill these life lessons in their daughters, too. In fact, mothers who are in heteronormative relationships with the fathers of their children can (and probably do) teach their daughters the following lessons, too. You don't have to be a straight, cisgender father to teach your daughter anything, let alone specific things.
However, I've seen my husband so effortlessly and yet significantly guide our daughter through her first seven years of life, so I wanted to share what he's done. It seems as if fathers and daughters do, indeed, share a bond that is special to them. And although some days I wish I understood why she listens to him more than she listens to me, I do my best to be thankful she listens to someone. My husband is our daughter's role model, and here is what he's taught her so far:
How To Swim
I can't teach my daughter how to swim, mostly because I don't have enough patience in the world and I'm way too lazy to spend hours in the water trying to get her to swim. My husband, however, can spend days in the pool.
So I sit by the pool, drink in hand, and watch them splash around. Although he never quite succeeded at teaching her to swim very far, he did teach her to tread water for a little while and to swim a very very short distance. She later learned to swim laps at camp, but I'm sure the many hours in the pool she spent with her father gave her a decent foundation.
As involved as he is a parent, he is also pretty hands-off when it comes to helping our daughter accomplish some tasks. Our daughter can be kind of lazy (no clue where she gets that from) and gives up easily when she thinks she can't accomplish something. But rather than doing it for her, my husband let's her struggle with the idea or situation on her own. "Figure it out," is probably his most loved phrase. Eventually, she just does.
How To Dance
We have been to a few weddings and events where my husband and our daughter spent the entire night dancing together. As he lifts her (a la Dirty Dancing), spins her, throws her up in the air, and slides her on the floor, she beams with pride and joy. He lets her stand on his feet as they slow dance and lets her jump on his back as they bounce around the dance floor.
How To Ride A Bike
My daughter is not the adventurous type, which is something she probably gets from me. So when the time came to learn to ride a bike, she did not want anything to do with it. She was afraid of falling and, honestly, I don't blame her. So my husband spent days teaching her and he did not give up and did not let her give up until she learned.
How Men Should Treat Women
For International Women's Day, my husband brought flowers for me, my mom, and our daughter. My daughter watches her father as he opens the door to the car so I can get in, how he helps bring in groceries, how he cleans up after dinner, how he speaks to me, how affectionate he is with our moms, and how kind he is to my girlfriends. My hope is that his actions force to set standards for how a man should not only treat her, but treat all women.
"Respect your parents, your grandparents, and those around you," he tells her as they walk through the front door. "If you respect others, they will respect you, too. However, if someone does something disrespectful, you have my permission to lower the bar of respect for that person," he continues.
Still, words are words and actions are modeled. So he respects her by asking her permission for certain activities, by giving her choices rather than ultimatums, by asking her opinion rather than telling her what to think, and by allowing her to make decisions rather than making them for her.
We signed our daughter up for Jiu Jitsu when she was 5. However, before she started learning physical self-defense, her dad has been teaching her how to stand up for herself. He explains when it's appropriate to respond with words, when she should simply ignore, and when she must use physical force to defend herself. He teaches her how to decipher between the various hostile situations she may experience and how to act. I've actually heard him say, "People won't let up just because you crawl into a ball, so don't be afraid to fight back." They practice moves she learns in Jiu Jitsu, as I squirm and pray he doesn't break her neck.
How To Fix Whatever Is Broken
If something breaks, my husband will fix it and he usually involves our daughter in the process. From changing light bulbs, to hammering screws, to gluing broken pieces, to sanding and painting: they do it all together. She loves it and I'm just happy it gets done.
How To Climb And How To Fall
Both literally and figuratively. My daughter and husband go on adventures. He takes her rock climbing, hiking, go-karting, mini-golfing, and biking through the trails. He teachers her about physical barriers and how to break them. He explains to her that when she falls, she must get up and climb again. He reminds her that sometimes you must fall to be able to climb even higher.
"No one is every allowed to do anything to you without your permission, not even your friends or family," is the mantra we live by in our house. While I am the one who takes any opportunity to slip in a quick conversation about consent, my husband's influence is much more significant. When he tells her that she should give her affection only to those she wants to, he is teaching her important lessons about consent. We can only hope those words are forever absorbed in her psyche.
So these are the things my husband has taught our daughter and these are the things all little girls should learn from whomever is willing to teach them.