Dads Raising Daughters: On Teaching Girls They Are Strong, Beautiful & Powerful

Last year for Father’s Day, we ran a series of interviews with real-life dads divulging their wisdom on raising independent, vibrant girls. Dads Raising Daughters turned out really lovely, so I’m making a fledgling Frisky tradition of it! This year for fatherly parenting advice, I turned to Josh, who has two girls ages eight and five; Jim, who has a nine-year-old; and James, whose daughter is three.

Yesterday, we learned what these dads want to teach their daughters about love and dating. Today, the dads explain how they teach their girls they are strong, beautiful and powerful.

JAMES: My wife and I have also attempted to accompany any “Aren’t you cute!” or “You’re so pretty!” with “And smart!” or an “And funny!” The goal is to make sure that one is never used without the other so she knows there is more to life than looks; one can be smart and caring as well.

JIM: I am blessed to have a genuinely terrific kid — good-hearted, smart, creative and funny. I try to let her know that as much as I can. I figure if I’m thinking something nice about her, why not let her know? There’s a school of thought that holds that it’s dangerous to over-praise children, in which case she’s probably doomed. I tell her she’s beautiful along with the other honest observations I make about her. I have tried to make my scale of values clear — that it’s more important to be good than to be smart, and more important to be smart than to be pretty — and I hope that sinks in. Probably less important than what I tell her is what I pay attention to; I think I do react more to a story that she writes than to her latest earrings. I sure hope I do.

JOSH: I cannot help but tell them how beautiful they are, every day, simply because it is a plain fact and it is astonishing. I do try to remind them that while they are, in fact, beautiful and that’s all well and good, it is largely not a matter of choice or intention; I try to remember to tell them they are also brave and insightful and caring and good and inquisitive and kind, which are more about choices they can make every day, at nearly every turn.

JIM: I asked her the other day if anyone had ever told her she couldn’t do something because she was a girl. She thought for a minute and then said, “Use the boys’ bathroom.”

JOSH: When she was smaller and her sister was just a baby, I tried to look for a book that I could read to my daughter over a series of bed-times that would plant the seeds of empowerment and personal agency in the world, while providing a sense of adventure and wonder to the idea of exploring and following her nose through life to see where it might lead her. To my great horror, I found that, for the most part, no such book really existed in that way. There are lots of “You are special and destined!” adventure stories for boys, with special and magical boy protagonists, but not so much about girls that casts them in a powerful, active role. So I wrote one for her; I was a kind of Daddy-Scherezade, coming up with pages every day for the night’s bedtime. When it was all done, I got a single copy printed through one of those “get a bound copy of your book!” sites, and now it sits on her bookshelf, with heft and weight as a monument and reminder of that time and that telling.

JOSH: I think it is important to note, as a kind of counter-counter narrative on being a would-be-progressive-dad to girls that there exists the possibility that your girl may genuinely enjoy the girl-flavored things in the world. Her distaste for robots and space-men and adoration of pastel ponies and stuffed frogs having endless birthday parties might not be simply brainwashing from a Pinkwashed-Industrial-Complex, but a matter of genuine preference. And dudes, if you are going to be a good dad, you have to be okay with that.

Having two girls, ages five and eight, with an active Netflix-on-demand account, I have become a de facto Brony. At least in my awareness of MY LITTLE PONY cosmology, pantheon, and history, if not enthusiasm. When we brought the first little eight lb. bundle home from the hospital, I was full of fire about not assigning gender roles to colors. Not for my little girl! Her room was greens and yellows and blues, filled with animals and drawings and we were not going to encircle her head with some frilly band with a fake flower on it or cover her in lace and doilies for fear that someone, somewhere might assume she was a boy. If she grew up and wanted to like kung-fu movies and boxing and Batman, then by the gods, SHE WAS GOING TO LIKE KUNG FU MOVIES AND BOXING AND BATMAN AND THEY’D HAVE ME TO DEAL WITH IF THEY HAD A PROBLEM WITH THAT.

But, as it turned out, she likes neither kung-fu movies, boxing nor Batman, despite my sometimes-not-so-subtle pushing that it would be totally okay if she did. I like kung fu movies and boxing and Batman. I came to realize that pushing my likes on her is not striking a bold blow against enforced gender-normative roles; it is just being kind of a dick. It is wonderful to be open to your daughter’s choice in aesthetics, but don’t mistake that for pushing your own. If she wants a pink room because that’s what she wants, then dude. Paint the room pink.

Here’s something, though: I told my girls about how, for the most part, nature’s fiercest warriors and defenders are girls: the bees who collect nectar and pollen for the hive, and who defend it with their stings and give up their lives in doing so, are, all of them, girls. Sisters. The males are lazy drones who can’t even sting and hang around inside and keep the Queen happy. Lionesses are the real hunters, and there’s nothing more fearsome or deadly than a bear-mother defending her cubs. That kind of stuff.

How did your dad teach you that you’re strong, beautiful and powerful? Tell us in the comments!

[Image via Shutterstock]