Girl Power: Fueled in Part by Dad Love


photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc
photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

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.

UNC Women's Soccer

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.

Mia Hamm corner

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:

hayden

Kind of makes me weak, honestly.

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42 thoughts on “Girl Power: Fueled in Part by Dad Love

  1. wonderful post, eli. love the email note at the end and your girls’ accomplishments along the way. i raised 3 girls also, as a single mom, since they were young, and they are all resilient cores with soft edges who have grown into amazing women. i see some of me in them, as well as each being their own person, and i’m happy they have trumped me.

    1. I wish I had something a little lighter for Christmas, but I appreciate it! That email from Marie made my day. Probably you could point to so many prominent women in history – and those less prominent, but every bit influential – and identify resilient cores and soft edges in them, too.

      If your girls have trumped you, it’s the strength of what you gave them, too.

  2. You have instilled so much in your girls, not just the love of sportsmanship. There are so many great byproducts that come with that. Girls these days need those things, really during any age. I’m 40 now and wish my dad had instilled one ounce of what you are giving these girls. Great job, Eli!

  3. I had to refresh the page and take a few minutes to think about what I wanted to say. I love the way you talk about strong vs. weak, and how those words can describe different parts of us at different time.
    I often read your words and think of my own father. A father of girls. A dedicated father with a soft heart and strong exterior. Or maybe a hard heart and a soft exterior. I’ll never really know, but it is nice to think about what he might have been like.

    1. I thought maybe you had to refresh the page because the snow piled up too high.

      Strong and weak can definitely mean different things at different times. In the end, Marie made me weak with that email, but it was a good weak. I can’t always be a hard-ass, you know. (Well, I hardly ever am, actually!)

      Do you have a feeling about your dad? Like, a prevalent feel for who he was? His legacy lives on in you in some form, but I wonder how difficult it is to identify it from who you are, you know?

  4. My daughter has a much different relationship with her father than I did with mine. It’s a sign of the times, not of my father’s love for me, but it’s different nonetheless. I often listen to the murmurs of my husband and daughter as they chat every night before bed, and I am so thankful that she has him in her life. He is a big part of what makes her strong, as I’m sure you are for your girls.

    1. Yes, things are different now, and I think it goes for both dads and daughters and dads and sons. We dads are different these days – I think we’re more connected, and not just the dude who brings home the bacon and doles out the spankings.

      We dads have to understand we’re the first male role model for our daughters, and whether we want the responsibility or not, will go a long way to demonstrate how a man should treat them.

      Sounds like that responsibility is being embraced in your house.

  5. I read this and it made me wonder – where did my strong core come from?
    My dad wasn’t around for a chunk of my growing up – he and I get along fine but it will never be the closeness that you will always have with your girls. I don’t know if I ever thought about this before but this post definitely has me thinking.
    And – I think that you have already imparted more to your girls than many dads ever will!

    1. I’m glad you brought up this perspective – from the woman with that strong core. My dad and I were the closest after I grew up, too. He mellowed out, and I got less weird!

      I heard Marie sounding a lot like me the other day … it was both enlightening and frightening.

  6. I love that email! It made me smile. I definitely think kids don’t appreciate their parents the way we think they should, and they won’t until they have kids of their own. My daughter is a daddy’s girl, but she is spending Christmas away from us, with her grandparents and cousins and I miss her. Since she left, I think she has called me (ME) every single day and today she said “I miss you mom.” Made my night.

    1. Isn’t it sweet? I often wonder if they’re ever embarrassed of me being their coach, but I’ve never really seen that (not that it doesn’t happen).

      Looking for evidence of affirmation is like trying to train a cat to make me a grilled cheese sandwich.

      It has to be so hard to not have your kid with you on Christmas! As they get older, I know this becomes more likely.

      I think the fact that she is calling you is the equivalent of that email I got from Marie.

  7. Having been raised by a single mom, there’s no question where my tough core came from. Unfortunately due to a very poor example of fatherhood – or just manhood period – I am not so sure there are many soft edges. I think becoming a mother myself is what probably started to chip away at that hardened exterior. I always knew what a mom would fight like for her child….but I didn’t really Know in My Knower. ya know? Now, I definitely know. And along with the firm resolve, I think there comes then a softening. No one can make your heart smile like your child – and no one can cut you to the quick like them too. It’s like that quote about having your heart walking around outside your body; and it’s frightening and beautiful and ultimately you just surrender to it and get filled with this unconditional love that knows no bounds.
    Um yeah, so ….Merry Christmas eh. 🙂

    1. We dads have a responsibility to do no harm. If we’re not going to enhance a girl’s life, we at least need to be sure not to damage it.

      Kids have the power to undue that damage, don’t you think? But it’s not a given. It takes something in a mom’s heart, too. You have that. And you’re instilling it in your kids.

      You’re so right about the power of our children – to lift and to cut – but it’s our job to maintain either way. And enjoy the ride, lifts, cuts, and everything in between.

      Merry Christmas! Nice light and airy topic for the holiday, eh?

    1. Wasn’t it cool? I think a good dad is just like a roof over your head – you know it’s there, but you probably don’t often think about it. I think it’s not always easy to understand girls when you’re a dad, and there’s plenty I get wrong.

      But I’ll always give it a shot.

  8. Eli, I’m 42-years-old, married with a toddler, but I’m really hoping you would consider adopting me.:) Dads like you don’t grow on trees.
    I just can’t imagine the superpowers your girls are going to have when they grow up as a result of having had you for a dad. How very fortunate they are! You mean far more to them than just a roof over their heads. It may take a few more years before they can really tell you how important you are, but trust me, they will! They will.
    Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

    1. I just started the paperwork.

      Jennifer, I have absolutely no response to this comment, other than to say thank you. It was one helluva Christmas gift, actually.

      And Merry Christmas!

  9. This post is so sweet! I often wonder what my son will be like as he grows. He’s a pretty tough toddler, but he can be sensitive too. I think that balance of strong core with soft edges is important, but hopefully it kinda falls into place for most little ones. Although I really have no clue… I’ll let you know in 10 years! 🙂
    Merry Christmas!!
    Caroline

    1. Thanks Caroline. With our kids, there’s nature and nurture, and it’s impossible to know which is most influential, or even if that influence shifts over time, and all we can do is do our best with the nurture part of it.

      I think we want that not-heartless, but not a bleeding-heart balance, and even as toddlers, we can see both sides getting their share of air time!

      In 10 years, you’ll have a better idea … but you’ll be only halfway there!

      Merry Christmas, Caroline.

    1. Thanks August! Love hearing too that your dad is still such a presence in your life – I hope that I can say the same as my daughters grow up.

      And thank you for that awesome compliment … I definitely don’t get it right all the time as a dad, but i’ll always give it all my heart.

  10. Very moving. So glad that you are really there for your girls, encouraging them to be all they can be. You’re right – they won’t understand all that you did for them until they have children of their own. Thanks so much for sharing with the Let’s Get Real party.

    1. Thank you Gaye. I feel like being the dad of girls is an impossibly important job, and one you just have to throw your heart into.

      There are little moments every day that demonstrate to me they do understand, and I’ll take that.

      Glad to be part of the party, Gaye.

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