Feminist Fathers, Feminist Parents

Even with all our thoughtful, self-aware discussions about how to bring feminism to parenthood, it often still remains a discussion by and about women. Well, that’s how we think of it, anyway. But judging from discussions I have with my husband, my father friends and this wonderful post on Jezebel, the idea of critically examining how we raise our children through the prism of feminism is very much happening in the male mind, too. In Mike Adamick’s Jezebel piece, he laments that when it comes to raising girls the only advice you get is the ubiquitous jokes to “lock her up” and “keep her off the [stripper] pole.” (The latter something of an extra challenge here in Las Vegas, no?) But what about the practical advice that dads should be dispensing along with shoe-tying and training wheels?

This is a very good question, indeed. And it’s one my husband and I have been talking about quite a lot after the birth of our daughter (we did not know the gender until she was born). And, frankly, it’s something moms should be thinking about, too. After all, my job is not just to teach my child how to bake cookies, either. (Although, I do, in fact, make a killer pie crust.)

Here are some of the great ideas Adamick included in his piece:

1. How to change a flat.
I was late picking up my daughter from school last week because I had to stop to change a flat. My jeans were a mess and my hands were soiled black. The kids gathered around to examine my hands and wanted to know all about it. One teacher said he would have just called AAA. On the way out of class, my daughter asked if I remembered to put the lug nut lock back in the trunk with the jack. She may not be strong enough to physically change a tire just yet, but she knows what to do. This is going to be useful on some country road some day, I just know it.

2. How to pee on the trail.
We take a lot of hikes, getting out of the house as much as possible on sunny days or throwing on rain boots to go stomping in puddles after a storm. But what do you do when you’re a mile away from the trailhead and your daughter suddenly has to pee? You wouldn’t think twice about sending your boy behind a tree, so why not your little girl? I’ve been on hikes with people who turned back, speed walked to the car and drove away instead of letting their girls pee on the trail. I think that’s just plain weird.

3. How to use a reciprocating saw.
OK, maybe this is too specific. The point is, kids should learn how to safely use power tools. The saws-all is just a kick-ass piece of equipment that will help her out of a carpentry jam sometime in the future. I also taught my daughter how to use our sewing machine. I see no difference between it and other tools. With all of them, you do a boatload of measuring first and only then do you flip the switch.

4. How to negotiate the price of a new car.
My daughter listened in as I called around to different dealerships, looking for the right car at the right price. (Negotiating by phone is so. much. easier. but she should also learn to do it in person.) If anything, I hope she learned you can be polite and be demanding at the same time. It’s business, not personal. If you don’t get what you want, shop around.

5. How to bake a cake.
Or a cupcake. Or a dutch baby. Anything. I think it’s important to have at least one memorized recipe to call on, so you can help a friend in a pinch, cook up an easy dinner party dessert or just have some fun in the kitchen every now and then. When I’m hiking with my daughter in the late summer, we look for blackberries so we can hurry home to make a clafoutis — the one thing I have memorized.

These (and the other five points he shares on the post) are great! And I think we should, as Adamick asks in the piece, think of some more things every girl should know.

Here are some ideas I have:

  1. Start a fire and build a tent. These go along with Adamick’s “pee on a trail” but also offer some valuable lessons on their own. Creating fire is really hard and frustrating. (I know from experience.) But it’s one of those things that once you know how to do it, it helps build confidence that you can survive by your wits. Similarly, making sure you have a safe, dry place to sleep is pretty important. I don’t know if my daughter will like camping, but she’ll get at least a little experience doing it in this family. And some of the things you learn out there are pretty helpful in the rest of your life, too.
  2. Know how to talk sports. In our house the TV is on all weekend during football season (college – GO DUCKS!- and pros), during March Madness for the NCAA college basketball tourney, the NBA playoffs, the World Cup and assorted other sports year-round. I have not always liked sports as I do now. But a big part of that is because I did not have any positive experiences with them and I didn’t understand the rules of the games. (I still hate baseball.) Maybe my daughter will hate sports entirely, but I still think it helps to understand the rules and social impact of sports. It’s a major part of American society (and many other societies all over the world). You limit yourself if you ignore it completely.
  3. Know how to throw/kick/swing at a ball. Speaking of sports, it’s a great place to learn all sorts of life lessons. Teamwork. How to handle performance anxiety. How to be a gracious winner. And how to be a good loser. At the very least, I don’t want my daughter to be afraid of picking up or otherwise hitting/kicking a ball.
  4. Appreciate Bach, Charlie Parker and Dolly Parton. Okay, maybe she won’t like classical, jazz, and country music. I don’t really like country music (with a few exceptions, like Dolly), either. But the point is to experiment with music. Appreciate it beyond peer pressure. I met my husband in high school band. Without a doubt, if he and I had not been introduced to classical music and learning music in our childhoods, we would most likely never have met. I was raised in a family with musicians and radio DJs. So my experience of music is broad. I want nothing less for my daughter. Like sports, I think you miss out on a valuable part of life if you ignore music.
  5. Read a banned book. This is probably inescapable for a child of a writer. This is a very good way to explore the idea of controversy, taboos and the idea of banning, well, ideas. One of the most important things I hope to teach my daughter is critical thinking. Why is this book banned? Why does it threaten certain groups? What does that say about our society or the time it was banned? But there’s another side to this, too. How do we comport ourselves in a world where people can so vehemently disagree? How do we argue with class and dignity (for ourselves and our opponents)? There’s a whole world of disagreements and controversy out there (abortion rights, anyone?), exploring the idea of censorship and banned books is one way to learn tools that will be helpful in many ways in life. And she’s already on her way with Dr. Seuss.
  6. Kill a spider. I am often surprised how quickly a room full of strong, feminist women can turn into a den of squealing girls at the presence of a spider, cockroach, mouse or other pest. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but sometimes it must be handled. I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like she has to go hunt down a man to take care of some dirty work. Nothing is beneath you. And there is no reason a girl can’t squash a spider any more effectively than a boy.
  7. Know how to throw a punch and when to run away. Look, it’s good to know how to defend yourself from a pervert and from a drunk loud-mouth at a bar. I’m not saying I want her to go out and be a bully or a tough-gal. But at the same time, I don’t want my daughter to be afraid of her own power, be it mental or physical. Sometimes you can’t talk your way out of a situation. Sometimes you have to punch a guy in the nuts. Or punch a girl in the face. It’s rare. But if a situation goes bad, I want my daughter to know what to do.
  8. Have medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education. She should know what her parts are called and information that is appropriate to her age. And while we’re at it, I hope she will not only feel comfortable bringing her questions to me, but her father, too.
  9. Understand a gun. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in Alaska (Wasilla, in fact). Maybe it’s because I come from rural, farm folk who hunt and fish. But understanding a gun is important. Now, I don’t own any guns. I don’t shoot them. It’s not my thing. And I’m not particularly comfortable around them. But before I went to college, I was made to sit down and learn about guns. The types. The bullets. How to know if there is still a bullet in the chamber. And most importantly, I learned how to unload a gun. Demystifying guns and at the same time understanding their power — I think that is a very important lesson.
  10. Know how to pack a survival kit for your car (and home) and be able to jump-start a car. Again, this might be my Alaskan roots showing. But even now that I live in the desert, it’s important to never be caught in a dangerous position out in the elements. If you’re in a car and it breaks down, it’s great if you know how to fix it and if you can call for help. But what if you’re out in the boonies? What if you have no cell reception? What if it’s 10-below or 120 degrees out? It’s not just a good idea to be prepared on this one. It could save your life.

So, these are some good examples. What would make your list?

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