From First Sports Bras To Tampons, Fathers Need To Get Involved
Yesterday, I sent a text to my daughter’s father, telling him that our 15-year-old daughter needs new bras. Since my daughter’s father lives in Calgary, our daughter is spending the rest of the summer there with him (and her grandparents.) I added, “She may be embarrassed to ask you, so can you tell your mother, and get her to take her shopping?” My daughter’s father responded with, “Not a problem. I’ll take her.” And he will. He may wait outside and get a salesperson to help her choose the right fit, but he will take her to buy bras. And my daughter will be perfectly comfortable with this excursion.
I like to think that my daughter’s father is an enlightened father – I like that word – in part because he has been forced to be, and also, he has had no other choice when our daughter is with him. I hate to make a sweeping generalization, but there are certain subjects I’m sure my daughter’s father feels uncomfortable talking to our daughter about simply because he’s a guy. When our daughter was three and used to get yeast infections (yes, this happens) do I believe he was totally comfortable putting cream on her in that area? No, but he had to because Mommy was 3000 miles away!
Once upon a time, my daughter’s father was clueless about little girls and what females go through as they grow up—our grooming habits, what we wear, or about issues that were once relegated to “moms” or “girlfriends.” When, for example, my daughter was in Calgary at age 12 to attend a wedding and needed new shoes, my daughter came back home with a pair of shoes that cost $500. I called her father and said, “You spent $500 on a pair of shoes for a 12-year-old? No 12-year-old needs shoes that cost that much!” His response? “My mother wasn’t around. I don’t know anything about women’s shoes or how much they are supposed to cost. I just took her to Holt Renfrew.” Which is totally fair. Why would he know how much women’s shoes cost, or for that matter, how much is reasonable to spend for a 12-year-old girl?
I’ve always kept my daughter’s father in the loop about her milestones. I’m not talking about when she lost her first tooth, or when she won a writing contest at school. I’ve kept him in the loop when she asked for her first bra at age 8 to when she got her period.
Thankfully, my daughter was with me when she got her period for the first time (and, yes, my daughter is fine with me sharing. I did ask!) I say “thankfully” because I’m sure my daughter would have been totally uncomfortable telling her father, and asking her father to take her to a drug store for supplies. If her father didn’t even know about the cost of women’s shoes, I could only imagine his expression trying to navigate the numerous products on the shelves for menstruation. I know, pretty much for certain, that my daughter’s father does not know how to use a tampon.
Likewise, a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from my son’s camp nurse—also female—telling me that my son was, in her words, “kicked in the penis area” and was in pain. My response? “Well, I don’t have a penis and neither do you, but I think the pain goes away in like…5 to 10 minutes?” I actually thought, “Why isn’t she calling his father, who actually has a penis?” But then I immediately thought, “No, even if I don’t have a penis, my son should be comfortable coming to me, when things like this happen.” I asked my son when he got home if he was still in pain after getting kicked “in the penis area?” because I want him to be open with me about so-called “male” things. (I also asked a couple of male friends how long the pain lasts, because, honestly, while I know it hurts, I had no idea how long the pain lasts after being kicked. Who knew it could last hours?)
My daughter also hates body hair, so she wants to be waxed around every three weeks. Her father needs to know, and I need my daughter to know, that they can talk to each other about these so-called private issues, without embarrassment, because guess what? My daughter will be with him when she needs to be waxed. He will have to make an appointment for her. She will get her period and will need supplies when she’s with him. She may meet a boy and want to go hang out with him. And he needs to know who she is hanging out with and where. Frankly, when I was her age, I was embarrassed to wear a bikini in front of my father. My daughter has never been embarrassed to wear a bikini in front of her Dad, so times have changed. My daughter’s father may not like my daughter’s short-shorts, but he needs to understand that it’s a good thing our daughter has the confidence to wear whatever the hell she feels comfortable wearing.
I need her dad to feel comfortable asking her questions like, “Do you need a refill for the pill?” Or, “Did you make out?” and for my daughter to be comfortable telling her dad that she “just kissed” in return.
There are so, so many single moms and dads, and fathers and mothers who are gay, raising children of the opposite gender. But it’s not just gay and single parents who need to learn to be open with their daughters or sons. I believe ALL dads should be comfortable enough to talk to their daughters about issues considered “female.” All dads need to be more enlightened! Just like I believe all mothers should feel comfortable talking to their sons. My newly minted 7-year-old gets erections and is only too pleased to show them off, and since he’s with me 50 percent of the time, I want my son to feel comfortable asking me questions about penises, even if I have to google search the answer.
One day, he will be having sex, and I want him to be comfortable asking me to buy condoms, because, frankly, the other option is him getting an STI or someone pregnant. So I know I need to teach him he can come to me, even though I’m a female, with any questions or concerns he may have.
When my daughter went on the pill (using every teen’s argument that it will “regulate my period”) I asked her if I could tell her father, since I believe he should know what drugs she is on, and that also, she may be at the stage of thinking about sex, and yes, her boobs are bigger, because of the pill. My daughter was fine with it. When I asked her if I could tell her father about her first kiss, she was also fine with it. Interestingly, she didn’t mind her father knowing, but she didn’t want to be the one to tell him. But that slowly changed, as her father asked her more and more about her personal life. The more open he is with her, the more open she is with him.
I have sent her father a photograph of a box of tampons, so he could see what brand she uses and so he could buy them to have in his house. (Don’t you just love technology?) Now when I tell her father things like, “Oh, she’s going to need waxing, and probably will get her period when she’s with you,” he responds with, “I know, Beck. You don’t need to tell me.” Why? Because he knows!
I do think men are stepping up and becoming “enlightened fathers,” comfortable talking with their daughters about female issues. I see on Facebook a lot of fathers taking their 3 or 4-year-old daughters for manicures and pedicures, which is a lovely first step, not just as a father/daughter bonding moment, but so girls can learn that yes, both mothers AND fathers want to take them for haircuts, manicures, clothes shopping, waxing and more importantly, just be real with each other about issues that are basically human biology. Yes, your sweet little three-year-old will be getting her period. Yes, your sweet little five-year-old one day will ask for a sports bra. Yes, your sweet little six-year-old will one day hate the hair on her legs and will want to shave them.
Last time my daughter spent so many consecutive weeks with her father, I remember talking to her and asking her if she had gotten her period and if she had told her father. “I just told him I needed to go to the pharmacy to get some things,” she told me, which I think is great. Sure my daughter didn’t actually say, “I need tampons,” but she was comfortable enough to ask her dad to take her to Shoppers Drug Mart.
Why should children of one gender only go to the parent about personal issues of the same gender? I want my son to feel comfortable telling me that he got “kicked in the penis” at camp. Because one day, my sweet little seven-year-old angel IS going to need a razor, shaving cream and, yes, condoms. I want him to ask me, in his teen years, if I think he’s wearing too much cologne. And this kind of transparency, I believe, needs to start when children are born.
I’m not at all criticizing fathers. I’m not saying they’re doing anything wrong. I’m simply suggesting, in this day and age, that they take an active role, not just when it comes to sharing parental duties, but to share in their daughter’s other milestones, that were once considered “Talk to your mother about this” issues.
We are all just humans, so why shouldn’t we want our kids to be comfortable coming to either mom or dad…whether it comes to periods or penises?