“I’m the nicest guy I know, and I’m an asshole!”
This is my standard line to describe my anxiety about being the father of a baby girl. Here’s another way to put it: A friend of mine related this line to me, but I don’t know the original source.
“When you have a boy, you only have to worry about one dick. When you have a girl, you have to worry about all of them.”
I was delighted when we found out that, after having a strong, sweet, smart, robust boy, our next child would be a girl. Moments later, I was filled with fear as well.
Oh no, I thought. I will have to protect her from everything.
I’ve calmed down some since then. But the essence of that anxiety remains with me.
My daughter is going to turn one year old in just a few days, and she’s powering into toddlerhood with all thrusters firing. She’s remarkably verbal (though apparently more so with her daycare teachers, with whom she uses actual words, which she has refused to do with us), wicked smart, with abilities to process physical and intellectual nuance that often floor me. She’s absolutely dying to get up on her own two feet and amble. Oh, and she’s got a sense of humor and a real attitude.
She’s a force to be reckoned with, is what I’m saying, and this will only become truer as she grows up. (Wow, even just typing the words “grows up” in regards to my daughter brings a lump to my throat.) She, like my boy, will be able to do anything she wants with her life.
But you know, I mean that partly aphoristically, of course. As in, they will be able to do whatever they want with their lives, assuming an asteroid doesn’t kill all life on Earth, or whatever. External forces beyond my own children’s will, skill, and effort can dampen their opportunities, or add danger where it might not otherwise be. Of course. How could it be any other way?
You know that song “Soliloquy” from Carousel? Where the guy, Billy, sings about how he’s about to be a dad, and he fantasizes about having a little buddy of a son who’s just like him, and then he stops the song and realizes that he might, holy crap, have a girl? At first he warms to it, sees the idea as all cuddly and cute, and then has this revelation that somehow his fatherly responsibility has doubled if it’s a girl, that he is now called to parental greatness:
Dozens of boys pursue her
Many a likely lad does what he can to woo her
From her faithful dad
She has a few
Pink and white young fellers of two or three
But my little girl
Gets hungry ev’ry night and she comes home to me!
I got to get ready before she comes!
I got to make certain that she
Won’t be dragged up in slums
With a lot o’ bums like me
She’s got to be sheltered
And fed and dressed
In the best that money can buy
I never knew how to get money,
But, I’ll try, I’ll try! I’ll try!
I’ll go out and make it or steal it
Or take it or die!
I get this. We’d already had one kid when we knew we were having a girl, and especially considering that I had been unemployed when we first found out we were going to have the first one, I had already reached Carouselian heights of determination within myself. But then I also remembered the line above about “you have to worry about all of them,” and I could have damn well broken into song.
(Fun fact: I actually performed this song at two events for high school, once for the drama department’s awards night, once for a graduation-related awards night for the whole senior class. I don’t think the latter, a cafeteria filled with bullies and dumbasses, appreciated it.)
As for my little girl, she will not be a shrinking violet; this is already clear. But I will be worried every day for the rest of my life about what she encounters day after day. As she makes friends, interacts with boys, dates, and does things farther and farther from my parental sphere of influence. She is and will be strong. But it is inescapable that she will be viewed as prey by some, by too goddamn many.
How can I fix that? I’ve joked that I want my son to be conscripted into protecting her for the rest of his life. I’m kidding, of course, but I’m kidding on the square.
I know I can only parent as best I can, give her the best opportunities, the best foundation I can, and then let her do her thing. It’s not enough, not for me. But what else can I do?
My baby is turning one. She’s a marvel. I have to trust that all those who would impede her will be dazzled, blinded by her strength, character, and confidence, rendering them harmless and cowed.
I’ll help her any way I can. My little girl is turning one, and there are many, many more ones to come. I will be, as ever, her faithful dad.