Raising a daughter is unmapped territory for a father. But it’s territory where there’s no use for running away or stomping angrily around in circles. In daughter territory, we learn that we lose none of our true masculinity when our daughters draw out our “feminine side."
When my daughter Nia, after eleven years of training, danced a lead part in a ballet, I sat in the darkened auditorium feeling chills, my eyes filling with tears. I was choked up with love, pride and awe at her amazing passion, emotion and determination. My own emotions rolled over and welled up within me, catching me by surprise. After all, I'd proudly observed other displays of Nia’s talents and I knew I was going to feel proud watching her that night.
But the intensity and suddenness of my tears was, at first, disturbing. As a man, I’m used to having greater control over my emotions. But as the power of the moment continued, I realized that these new feelings were exactly what I wanted to feel as Nia’s father.
She drew those emotions out of me, and that brought me closer to her. Being a father means being a man, and being a father means tapping deep and sometimes unfamiliar springs of feeling and experience.
That’s very hard for some fathers to admit. Emotional expression feels threatening to many men, much to the chagrin of researchers like Steve Bergman, MD:
People tell me, "You're just talking about the feminization of men! You just want men to become like women." We're not talking about the feminization of men, but about the "relational-ization" of both genders. If, in this culture, that is taken as feminization, then we are in big trouble. That's what we're up against.
In our research, we ask thousands of eighth-grade boys, "What do you want girls to know about you?"
It rips your heart out to hear what they say: "I'm not really like this. I'm a nice guy underneath. I act like a pervert, but I really care. Don't believe my behavior and my actions."
Does acting like a jerk really do our sons any good? As grown men, we know better; we know that the strategies for attachment and intimacy with a life partner do not include conquest and the masquerade that men’s activist Jackson Katz calls our “Tough Guise.”
I enjoy being a man and doing “guy stuff” like going to the ball game and hanging out with male friends. I’ve never found that to be incompatible with nurturing my daughters, being openly affectionate and caring, resolving problems head on without violence, and admitting my mistakes.
To me, “real men” are the guys who see this kind of ongoing, intimate involvement in fathering as a badge of honor.
(Adapted from my book Dads and Daughters: How to Inspire, Understand, and Support Your Daughter.)