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Raise Your Daughter Right
Before my daughter was born, I fancied myself quite the feminist. But just moments after her birth, I got a shock as I cradled her and flashed forward, imagining her at 6, at 9, heading off to high school. When I actually had a father-of-the-bride moment about a child who was four minutes old, I knew these delivery-room feelings were different from the ones I'd had three years earlier, after my son was born. With my boy, I'd leaped ahead to sharing stuff with him: Fenway at dusk, paddling a canoe at dawn, the skirt steak at Smith & Wollensky. But in the scenes from the future with my girl, I was less partner, more protector. I was her Lancelot.
Hmmm.... Sexist after all.
I'm open to either polar idea about gender: 1) that its bio-imperatives are potent; or 2) that, like race, it's a myth, overhyped to exalt some folks over others. My hunch is that the secret to happy kids, whatever it might be, is gender-free. I'm sure of only two things: First, that once you have a daughter, you take on an obligation to become a fierce feminist, alert to any whiff of patriarchy that might, in the words of dance instructor Johnny Castle, put baby in a corner. And second, that even if you aren't a moral-high-ground kind of guy and think women should stop griping, having a daughter is just too great an opportunity to let sexism - yours or the culture's - keep you from savoring every sweet drop of being her dad. These thoughts could help make sure you both have access to it all.
You're not her mother: Your daughter will look to you for an unmeasured enthusiasm, one without that frisson of reserve - or is it judgment? - that sometimes emanates from even the best moms. That doesn't mean she can do no wrong; your relationship with her has to be authentic. But try to create the feeling that any complaints are just temporary static over the symphony of "Dad is plain nuts about you."
You think she's lovely: Of course, beauty shouldn't matter. But we must live in a flawed world where it does. Whether or not your daughter is a beauty by the narrow standards that rule the day, it's important that she knows you think she's beautiful. Don't try to sell the idea, and whatever you do, don't suggest that everybody thinks she's beautiful. Messing with kids' realities is always a bad idea. But try, as subtly as you can, to let her know that her daddy thinks she's a pretty girl - not that there's anything important about that.
You think she's much more than lovely: The male tendency to judge women, even our daughters, by their looks is deep-seated and tough to get over. Though saying "You look great" as she heads off to school may sound like an endorsement, it also endorses the idea that her physical beauty is her trump card. Make fewer comments about her hair and more about her kindness or math skills, her wit or net game. Help her appreciate all of her powers.
You love that song, too: Just as a couple has "their song," a father and daughter should also have one. Not a love song, to be sure, but an inspiring, ain't-life-great anthem, preferably performed by women, but hey, we're not gender-biased here. Singing along is a tie that binds. For your consideration: "Power of Two," by the Indigo Girls, and "Bright Side of the Road," by Van Morrison.
You're a fan: Sports are great father-daughter common ground. We can hide our emotional limits behind our vast knowledge of soccer and field hockey. Become Fan No. 1. But if your girl isn't interested in all that sweating, find something else to share with her: going to movies, hiking, eating pancakes, a favorite author, bike rides into town. You're enthused about what she's enthused about, whether it's her new shoes or the party she went to last night. Not everything, mind you - above all, a girl wants a father who's a grown man, with the interests of same - but she needs to feel that you hear her.
You have strength to spare: A man's confidence about the future is valuable to a girleven if it's phony. No, make that especially if it's phony. Everything's going to be all right. Make her believe it.
You can be quiet: Girls bring a lot of emotion to situations that, to us, may seem like nothing much. Sometimes you may be tempted to cheer them up by minimizing the seriousness of what Janey said in homeroom or what Katie did at lunch period. Don't. Sympathize, but don't revise. If you're gentle with your daughter's feelings when she's small, you'll be useful to her when she's a teenager. She'll feel safe confiding in you, and that's what you want.
You think she can fix it: Do whatever you can to help your girl understand that machines and gadgets and tools are very much in her ambit. This translates into a broader sense of her agency in her life, a sense that she's in charge. Best case: When you're old and arthritis-ridden, she'll tune your vintage Mustang for you. Worst case: You get some extra time with her when you score some wiper blades.
You buy jewels: Yes, it's sexist, outdated, you name the adjective. But it's also nice when Dad takes the time to pick out something he thinks his baby might like.
You don't do sexism: Though it's vital to play goalie at home and keep as much sexist media junk as possible out of the house, it's also a losing battle. But you have to refuse to be complicit. If you're channel surfing with the kids, don't just sit there next to your daughter while somebody else's daughter shakes her groove thing on MTV. Sure, you'll be tempted; they have some lovely groove things on MTV. But if you do, it's a de facto endorsement. No need to make any big outraged deal about it - though I'm down with it if you want to - but either ask the kids to check the score of the Pistons game, or just get up quietly and go talk to Mom about what color she wants you to paint the shutters. If your adolescents mock you, wear their derision proudly - wear it as if it were a Silver freaking Star. Dad doesn't diminish women. Years from now, your daughter will thank you, as will any man lucky enough to get even a moment of her attention.
You honor her mother: Experts agree that a girl's future relationships with men are often shaped by both her relationship with her father and her father's relationships with other women. In simple, broad-brush terms, girls who are treated disrespectfully and/or see their mothers being treated disrespectfully sometimes come to tolerate that kind of treatment from future boyfriends, husbands, even male colleagues. If the bar gets set low early, it can have repercussions throughout her life. Your little girl is learning a lot about relationships from watching how you treat her mom. There is probably nothing better a man can do for his daughter than to respect her mother.
Our daughters summon our best. Nobody will overlook our shortcomings more reliably or exaggerate our charms more often. As surely as our sons will help us down off that pedestal, our girls will prop us up. Their hope in us makes it a mortal sin to let our girls down.
So, after you've purged yourself of all sexist thoughts, deploy a few rooted-in-patriarchy Dad moves. Buy her flowers from time to time. Send her a card or note. Write something brief that hints at your big, passionate feelings about her, something that makes it crystal clear that she has a champion. Be her Lancelot.
Source: By Hugh O'Neill, Best Life, men.msn.com/articlebl.aspx?cp-documentid=2784268