There we were, my 11-year-old daughter and I, sitting in the lunch room of her elementary school in our pajamas, the smell of freshly-delivered pizza wafting through the air and surrounded by about 30 giddy, energetic fifth-grade girls, along with 30 quietly nervous, fidgeting parents.
Aptly titled, “Girls Night Out,” we showed up for a “program to offer information on the growing up process, as well as some preparation for the changes that will be taking place in the students’ lives and their bodies.” If you are a parent, then you may know this as “the talk,” a.k.a., that dreaded moment when a dad has to reconcile with the fact that his baby is no longer a baby, that the even more dreaded teenage years are right around the corner.
Why, you might wonder, was I, as a dad, taking my daughter to an event populated solely by women and their daughters?
Because my daughter asked me to.
And if my daughter trusts me enough to ask me to accompany her to a knowingly uncomfortable event, then that is the kind of trust I want to continue nurturing, because it is that trust that will keep our communication flowing freely later in life.
As mothers and daughters filled in the last of the tables, the side-eyes and curious glances were painfully obvious, and under other circumstances, might have made me feel overly conspicuous or out-of-place, but not that night. That night, I was there for my daughter.
Once finished with a painfully awkward icebreaker, where we asked one another questions to gauge our mutual knowledge of the female menstrual cycle, we were shown an informational video, circa 1980s Betamax, and during the video, the characters talked awkwardly about the changing female body (breasts, pimples, body hair, hips, etc.) and how the female reproductive system works. Shrill, nervous, preteen giggles pierced the awkward silence, and with each one, the tension grew.
After the video, we were provided time for the girls to ask questions. Some were brave enough to ask publicly, while others chose to submit theirs anonymously via note cards. The questions were honest and brimming with curiosity about their imminent future, but despite the compulsory giggling, they handled the conversation with remarkable courage.
Observing adult reactions to the event was another story. Many were blushing. Most were whispering. Some looked as though they wanted to be anywhere but in an elementary school lunchroom on a Tuesday evening, talking puberty and menstruation with their daughters.
That’s when I had to say something, for my daughter’s sake.
I announced that, if I, as a parent, treat topics like these as though they are taboo, then why should my daughter feel comfortable talking to me about them? No thanks, I said, I want my daughter to feel like she’s normal and natural.
So, I talked about periods.
I guessed aloud how much blood a girl might lose during each one, and I proudly fielded a question that showed I know periods last three to seven days, on average.
I had no issue whatsoever with informing others that a typical cycle from one period to the next is usually around 28 days, nor did I take offense at being asked to explain the importance of charting said cycles.
I reassured my little girl by telling her that, just before starting her period, she might just feel like friends and family are suddenly annoying and intolerable, and that’s all right, because it’s normal. Many girls do.
I didn’t wince, nor did I whisper, when I told her that she might get her period tomorrow, or she might get it five or more years from now, but that no matter when it happens, she is still perfectly normal, no matter how it might feel to her at the time, and that her mother and I will be there for her to answer any questions she might have, no matter what.
Lastly, I guaranteed my daughter that I would be available any time she needs me to buy tampons or pads for her, but then I also reminded her that, someday, when she feels like she’s ready for a relationship, any boy worth her time will feel the same. Any guy who is too ashamed to show the world he is involved with a girl with a working uterus is not worth her time.
It’s time that fathers take a more active role in educating and raising their daughters to accept themselves for all that they are and ever will be.
It’s time for all parents, but especially dads, to stop treating topics like menstruation and puberty like they are highly contagious diseases.
It’s time for all of us to make our daughters (not to mention other girls and women) feel less like shameful secrets and more like the valuable yin to our yang that they truly are.
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