Getting a compliment out of my father was next to impossible. He was an opinionated New Englander with an acerbic tongue and he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Though I knew he was proud of me, he rarely said the words unless I’d done something extraordinary. But though his compliments were few and far between, it didn’t stop me from trying every single day to earn his praise. And often, it felt very defeating.
So when my daughter arrived, all 5 tiny pounds of her, I knew I wanted her to feel strong without having to look around for approval. I wanted her to have an innate sense of independence, to grow up in a home where we openly talked about her strengths and her talents. Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t want her to be lavished with undeserved praise and compliments on her appearance. Rather, I wanted her to know, from the moment they handed her to me in the delivery room, that I knew she was badass and destined to change the world with her light.
And I made sure her father knew of my plan, too, because I couldn’t do it alone. Just as nursing a drink and doctoring a drink are two different actions, I knew that my mothering would bring different facets to her world than his fathering. I could teach her how to buck the patriarchy and stand up for herself professionally, but I also believed that she needed a father who would openly show her his own version of strong and capable. I wanted her to be treated with respect, kindness, and love by the man who she would call Dad. And I wanted him to give her a compliment without her having to beg.
My husband has not let her down, and it makes me love him more every day when I see him helping her find her inner strength.
As I’ve watched her grow into a studious 11-year-old graceful beauty, I am realizing that now, more than ever, she needs to hear that she is strong and powerful. In the face of a tough political climate, I’m proud of the fact that she’s surrounded by women who are raising their voices in unison so that she can have the right to make choices for her own body and be paid fairly for her work. She has a legion of strong women supporting her, both personally and around the world. That is amazing.
But you know what else she has?
She has men in her life who work every day to show her that they support the strong, badass women in their lives.
We need the men who show up to basketball games, weary from long days at work, and coach our girls on the basketball court. We need them to help our girls learn teamwork, sportsmanship, and tenacity.
We need the men who attend family events and light up when they see their nieces. The men who take the time to stoop down, look them in the eyes and say, “Tell your uncle what you are learning in school.” And then listen intently.
We need the men who teach our girls in the classroom, the ones who don’t assume girls can’t do math and the ones who recognize that a girl can be badass at chemical equations and lab experiments.
We need the men who deliver health care, the ones who fight for a woman’s right to choose, and who show up to work to deliver the safe medical care she deserves.
We need the men, like the one who recently stood up in a crowded restaurant for my girl. The one who, when he heard her being disparaged by her grandmother and told she wasn’t strong enough to advance in the career she dreamed of for herself, stood up, walked across the room, and shut that noise down for her. He looked at her and told her she could do anything she put her mind to and reminded her to keep her head high. As my daughter recounted the story to me, she quietly looked at me and said, “He doesn’t even know me! And he believes in me.”
According to my daughter, he reminded her companions that telling a girl she’s not strong enough only perpetuates the patriarchy, that a girl will never break the glass ceiling if the people around her keep telling her she can’t. And then he went back to his burger and fries like it was regularly scheduled programming.
This man is who I want in my daughter’s life.
I will never know his name or what he does for a living, but I know that he’s made a lasting impression on my little girl. Because I wasn’t at the restaurant when he stood up for my daughter, I will never get the chance to look him in the eye and say thank you. I will never know what prompted his actions, and I’ll never know if he has a little girl too. But what I do know is that he made my job of parenting a little girl easier, and for that, I will always be grateful. My little girl will never forget him.
And I hope he knows that if we ever cross paths again, his hamburger and fries are on me. It’s the very least I can do.