August 30, 2012
I can tell you the very moment I realized I got something right with my kids.
If you are a parent, you understand why that might be a moment of some note. Parents — at least the ones who are worth a damn — spend a monstrous amount of time fretting over whether the path we take with our kids is the right one. Are we too strict? Are we too permissive? Is the whiskey we rubbed on her gums that time she was keeping us awake with teething pain the reason she’s getting a C in math? There are seemingly endless examples of ways we get it wrong. And once they hit their early teens, your kids will happily contribute their own additions to the list. But the moments you can look at your child and say to yourself, “This part, right here, this I got right,” are few and too far between.
That is why I am so exceedingly clear about the moment I knew I got it right with my girls on one of the most important issues a father of daughters has to deal with — boys.
My youngest, the one we’ve taken to calling Mills Child 2, was about 7 years old at the time and full of the sort of careless confidence only a child can pull off. She was sitting at the kitchen table polishing off a bowl of cereal, the sort of cavity-inducing florescent mess a better parent would ban from the cupboard, while her elder sister, Mills Child 1, was babbling on in her excitable little girl way about the sundry love connections at Maplewood Elementary School. Amidst the run-on of pre-adolescent gossip, she noted that a boy named Jimmy (note: names have been changed to protect the innocent, most notably, me) had a heart-piercing crush on MC2.
“So,” I teased her, “This Jimmy fellow, is he someone I need to worry about?”
“Probably,” my youngest said, still focused on the task of fishing stray marshmallows from what had become a disturbingly magenta pool of cereal milk. “He likes me. Whatever.”
And there you have it, every father’s fantasy response from his daughter on the subject of boys. “Whatever.” The same phrase, when paired with a perfectly timed eye roll, can push a parent to the edge of combustion. But applied with earnestness to the subject of boys, it was sweet music to my ears.
If you know young girls, you know they have a seemingly innate capacity for ambivalence. When applied to matters of parental import, say cleaning their room or finishing that science class leaf project they’ve known about for two months, it can be maddening. But when they treat boys to the same ambivalence, it can only be good.
Even now, seven years past that day at the kitchen table, my girls have a tendency to treat boys as an amusement. Sure, they are drawn to the saccharine romance of “Twilight” books and Nicholas Sparks movies, but until they meet an actual angsty, sparkling vampire or get Ryan Gosseling to return a tweet, they entertain themselves by torturing the poor lads who do show an interest. They like to test the boys by making them sit through viewings of “Titanic” or some other sappy flick. They bring each other or their best friends along on dates. And if the boy is lovesick enough to hang in their through all that, they dump him a week later. In other words, they are the sort of girls that made me miserable in my youth, causing the sort of emotional wreckage that gave Air Supply a career.
And I couldn’t be prouder.
I have no doubt the day will come when the tables are turned. I understand that the whole “princess” attitude will one day bring them (and future suitors) grief. But I also know that the alternative can be very, very bad. No girl ever ended up abused by a jackass husband because she felt too good about herself. No woman ever ended up on a stripper pole because her daddy made her feel too empowered.
There is a long list of things I have gotten wrong as a parent. I suspect I am not alone. But raising daughters with a healthy apathy about the opposite sex, that part, right there, I got right.