Every so often, someone will ask me a question. This is not surprising; all of us get asked questions, all the time. But this particular question is notable, because it’s repeated from a variety of sources, in a variety of settings, from friends to family to somewhat distant acquaintances. It’s not a malevolent question. It’s just conversational.
The question is simple: “Do you ever wish you had a son?”
I don’t have a son, you see. I have a daughter. A very wonderful, smart, occasionally frustrating, always rewarding daughter. And we all know that the bond between fathers and daughters is different than the bond between fathers and sons.
Fathers and sons play catch. They go to sporting events. They don’t talk much about feelings, but they have a quiet, silent bond, one primarily based around their favorite football team. The iconic moment for fathers and sons comes in Field of Dreams, when Kevin Costner asks the ghost of his dad, asking, tearfully, “You wanna have a catch?”
If there’s an iconic moment for fathers and daughters, it comes in a thousand tired romantic comedies, with a father staring down his daughter’s date.
That’s the difference between those relationships, the one we all know. Fathers and sons are quiet teammates. Daughters, however, are there to be guarded jealously by fathers. And so it’s a logical question, whether I wish I had a son — after all, the experience of having a son is supposed to be very different from the experience of having a daughter.
But it occurs to me that I’ve kicked a soccer ball around with my daughter, and played wiffle ball with her in the back yard. I’ve talked to her about science and reading and sports and animals, and read Harry Potter and A Wrinkle in Time to her at night. I’ve answered tens of thousands of questions for her, and looked up thousands of answers I didn’t know. I’ve encouraged her to try playing goalie for her soccer team, and burst with pride when she moved from trepidation at the idea to lobbying her coaches to play the position. I’ve encouraged her to work through math problems that she was sure she couldn’t do, and burst with pride when she solved the problem on her own.
Oh, there are things that I probably won’t teach my daughter. She probably won’t need to learn how to tie a Windsor knot from me, or how to shave her face without nicking it. And sure, there are things that she won’t want to do with me. She doesn’t appear to share my love of the Chicago Cubs, for example. But of course, there’s no guarantee a son would love the Cubs, either, and frankly, in the grand scheme of things, the ability to tie a Windsor knot isn’t that important.
And yes, it’s true, teaching my daughter about the birds and the bees won’t be exactly the same as teaching a son about them. I lack experience in being a woman, and so I can’t teach from experience when it comes to the changes she will face. But I most certainly can tell her about relating to objects of affection, and I will, because the more I talk to women, the more I realize that the experiences of men and women aren’t that different. We all have our doubts, our desires, and our dreams. The most important thing we can do is learn to talk to potential partners like they are, well, partners — equals in our journey through life. And so I’m already trying to teach my daughter the truth that is so often hidden in life — that boys and girls are a lot more alike than different, and that the best way to talk to a boy isn’t to hide who she is and try to guess what he likes, but to speak the plain truth and if he doesn’t like it, to move on. Come to think of it, that’s also the best way for her to talk to a girl.
What is important is learning how to live — how to take risks, how the world works, how to fall down and get back up, how to grow up to be a good adult. And those things are universal. A boy needs to learn how to care for others. A girl needs to learn when to put her head down and charge into danger. And everyone needs parents to help them learn those lessons.
I would have loved any child of mine. Had my daughter been a son, I would love her no less. But I don’t wish I’d had a son, nor do I lament what I’ll miss out on for not having one. My daughter is a wonderful kid, and she’s going to grow up to be a wonderful adult. I have nothing to miss, and quite a bit to celebrate.