A tough core, or soft around the edges?
In her first few months of life, during days of swaddling and baby caps and an utter disregard of a.m. and p.m., Elise and I would often tune in the best of 2 a.m. television together, with The Jeffersons or Bowdabra informercials in the soundtrack.
As 2:15, 2:30, 2:45 came, her eyes wide as teething toys, I’d wonder what she’d be like when she was too big to be wrapped like a burrito in a baby blanket.
Would she have that tough core, or a fragile psyche? Would she become sensitive and loving, or develop a resilient exterior that kept her feelings in check?
Every kid is different, and mine are too. My girls have that tough core, and it’s served them well in life and soccer, and all those spots where the two intersect. Sometimes, that soft exterior is missing, though. I’ll always believe it’s easier to soften the edges than galvanize the core.
My core is more resilient than tough.
It’s well documented my girls have accomplished more in a week of practice than I managed in an athletics career defined by an ability to make the team – just barely. It’s a different perspective from where they see the game: Winning shots, championships, MVP awards.
When a parent complimented Marie for her toughness after another grueling match this season, I took some good-natured credit for being the source of it in her.
Marie fought off a constant mark and defense by committee to stop her, and still had an impact. Her cheeks red and jersey untucked, she’d only occasionally stop to catch her breath with her hands on her hips (never her knees), and didn’t require a substitute.
“You’re strong, just like daddy,” I told her. It struck a nerve.
“No dad,” she said, and I thought she’d take credit for her own toughness. Rightly.
“I’m strong,” she said, “because you’re weak.”
# # #
Her age (13), effort (she might have come off the field three times this season – and once, it was just because she’d scored three goals), and pride prompted the slight, not a hate for daddy. I know this.
It got me thinking … dad advocacy for girl power comes with a price.
The girls fear mom, not dad. They quote Mia Hamm and Maya Angelou. Gatorade and Nike ads show them empowerment. Success in co-ed athletics and an abundance of all-girl team opportunities and programs like Girls on the Run that pair up our daughters with role models and illuminate their path to success.
What dad wouldn’t want to lift up his daughter on his shoulders, too?
The process renders dads more stepping stones than the foundation we aspire to be. And sometimes, the space our girls gain necessarily comes at our loss. Some progress means regression other places, in our roles, in the boardroom, in life anywhere. That inner strength becomes self-sustaining.
Moms own the plight of the underappreciated. We dads don’t know the reality of childbirth, natural or medicated, or of breastfeeding. We’ll never claim that proximity, but there’s a place for us still.
The sting doesn’t have to paralyze us.
Kids won’t often appreciate either parent fully until they have kids of their own. Their kids will become teenagers, in which that galvanized core might flourish, whose success might translate to the classroom and cross-country trails and soccer pitch and into college and motherhood and everywhere.
While our girls are there, on deans’ lists and in championship games and out front in the race with ponytail swinging, I suspect they might look down, or look back, and see dad. Maybe even pat him on the shoulder. Or send him a little something like this by email, like Marie did:
Kind of makes me weak, honestly.