I Have A Daughter

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.

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  • harry834

    On a Facebook group called “Guns don’t kill people. Dads with pretty daughters do”. It’s supposed to be humorous, but some of the stories described of real-life dads treating their daughters dates as potential criminals didn’t sit right with me. I’m all for stopping guys that truly show signs of being untrustworthy, as opposed to paranoid imagination cloaked in the term “loving her too much”, “doing what’s best for her”.

    I can’t really decide what others think is funny. Indeed, many mothers and daughters were laughing on that site as well. But I thought your story might make a nice little interruption of their status quo and sense of consensus, without having me agonize in making a debate with them.

    Thank you, Jeff. Am going out for the night.

  • harry834
  • kittyarmy

    Mr. Frecke,

    Thank you for this lovely article. I grew up in a country where gender roles were still pretty traditional, and I chafed at the differences emphasized between boys & girls. As a little girl I already saw that boys had the advantage, so I decided I would dress & act like a boy & hopefully people will accept me as one. The time my puberty hit was a sad & disappointing time for me. Fortunately my parents were pretty independent-thinking & indulgent, they let me explore and experiment, they taught me the universal values you mentioned above. They still held some old-fashioned ideas but they were great & I am lucky to have them on my corner. Your daughter is lucky to have you. I’m comfortable with myself now, but I still get annoyed at the way little boys are put into blue outfits with animals & sports motifs while girls are put into pink ruffles early on. I wish we will see more kids being raised with the same philosophy you apply to your daughter, that boys & girls (and likewise men & women) are not that different from each other when it comes to the need to become strong, resilient adults of good heart & character.

  • queenyasmeen

    This is such a great article.  I live in a very conservative community where parents and others feel very much inclined to insist on a traditional gender identity for their kids.  It breaks my heart to see a dad refuse to hold his son’s hand because it’s too “pansy” and a boy shouldn’t get the notion that being a pussy by loving his dad is OK (yes, I’ve really seen this happen in public).


    There’s another issue that your article didn’t really touch on (and is probably beyond its scope), but that I think is crucial as we become increasingly aware of the challenges facing transgender people.  If your child lives with an awareness that their birth-assigned gender isn’t the gender they feel in their hearts, rigid gender identities imposed by parents and community make it that much worse for them to accept themselves.  Of course, that’s a main goal of rigid social structures– to shame those who fall outside the accepted norms.  But I’m looking forward to a world in which more parents see their kids as people rather than as a gender, and should the need to assert another gender identity arise in their child, the child will know that they have their parents’ unconditional love and understanding.