Sometimes it’s a sympathetic slap to the shoulder. Other times it’s a quick inhale, lips tight, as if the person is feeling actual pain. Each and every time there’s an apology. “Oh man, two girls… I’m sorry. That must be rough.”
I have three children, actually. One boy and two girls. Not surprisingly, it’s usually men that make these statements of remorse when I mention that I have two daughters. When they find out the gender of my children, they always ask me how I survive. They ask how my son is holding up.
Now keep in mind, not all men say this. It’s usually the hyper-masculine type. I work in a division one athletics program, and some of the athletes think it’s funny to talk about how difficult raising two girls must be, as if they know anything about raising children. But I must say, the people that bother me the most are the strangers. The old men who pinch my arm at the grocery store when I have my two girls in the cart and say, “Two girls, huh? You got your work cut out for you.” Then they wink, and smile at me with coffee-stained teeth, and laugh as if I’d lost the child lottery.
Outwardly, I always give them a half-smile. I’m cordial. I’m not the kind of person to get into an argument in a grocery store with some rando. And they almost always interpret my reserved awkward half-smile as agreeing with them. When the reality is, I just find it annoying.
Now don’t get me wrong, when I found out that our second child was going to be a girl, I got a little nervous. I don’t think I was any more nervous than I’d been with my first child, our son Tristan. But I will say, it felt unfamiliar. Our son made a lot of sense to me. I could relate to his childhood. But a girl did seem foreign.
But now, looking back on raising two girls, being the father of daughters has been pretty awesome. It’s meant a melted heart. It’s meant reading a poorly written book that summarized the movie “Frozen” every night for six weeks, and although the writing was terrible and I’m sick of the story, I do it because few things were sweeter than having my daughters snuggled next to me. It’s meant driving to work at 6 a.m., alone, and somehow finding myself singing “Let It Go.” It’s meant looking at Barbie and wondering if she was setting a bad example of beauty for my daughter.
Having daughters has meant a mix of new emotions that, for me as a man, were completely unexpected. It has meant realizing that I, indeed, have a soft side. It’s meant learning that I wasn’t as tough I thought. It’s meant realizing nothing was as gratifying as the words, “I wove you, Daddy,” and no words stung worse than, “I’m never ever going to talk to you ever again!”
And perhaps that’s what these strangers apologizing for my daughters are getting at. There’s something about raising daughters that makes a man a little different. It makes you a little softer, a little more understanding. It tugs at these emotions you were told to shove deep down inside, and never show to anyone. Raising little girls unearths them. Puts them right there on your sleeve.
But what I don’t think they realize is that raising girls doesn’t make you weaker, or less masculine, or anything of the sort. Raising girls doesn’t mean parenthood is harder than raising boys — because parenthood is hard. Period. But raising daughters does make you a better, softer, more well rounded, and understanding man. And I’m sorry if you think that’s a bad thing, because it isn’t. I have learned so much about the struggles, frustrations, emotions and unreasonable expectations, women are faced with from raising my daughters. And none of that made me less, but rather it made me a more.
I am a better person because I was lucky enough to have daughters.
And when I think about all that, I realize that these men shouldn’t be apologizing to me. They shouldn’t be making all these ouch faces. What they should be doing is commenting on how lucky I am.
Because I certainly am.
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