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Daddies, Please Let Your Daughters Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Photograph by Getty Images

As a single dad raising three kids half of the time, I struggle to maintain my mental equilibrium—especially with my oldest, my daughter Violet. She’s 7 now, pushing 8, and she’s preprogrammed by something far removed from my control.

All kids are, it turns out.

They kind of find themselves in that second year of life, it seems. And by the time they hit three, they’re off and running after whatever deeply etched in their DNA vision of themselves that they possess.

It’s a thing of beauty if you want it. But it’s a royal pain in the ass if you offer up much resistance at all.

That’s especially true of the relationship between dads and daughters, I’m finding out. I’ve never insisted on much for my little girl. I don’t give a damn if she likes pink (she couldn't care less) or dolls (no interest whatsoever) or wants to play house in the big fake kitchen she got for Christmas when she was two (she doesn’t; it burned in a house fire years ago and she never mentioned it again).

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But I need to come clean: None of that’s as much a testament to my progressive open-mindedness as much as I'd like to tell you it is. Truth is, for the most part, it’s simply been way way easier for me let her figure her own sh*t out when it comes to most things.

That may sound rough around the edges and I know it. Yet funny things happen when you find yourself in charge of raising up a young female all by your lonesome. Weird sh*t goes down when you wake up one morning and look in the poorly lit bathroom mirror and suddenly recognize/realize yourself as a single dad in charge of three wee lives. And one of them’s a girl.

By default, you see, I stepped into this sort of masterful role I’m reveling in now. I’ve always been a live-and-let-live guy myself, so I guess that helps. However, what a lot of dads might NOT know, is that you don’t necessarily have to have some long history of supporting women’s rights and gender equality and feminism to get this whole daddy/daughter thing right. You really don’t.

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You just have to be able to be look yourself in the honest eyeball and ask yourself one steaming pile of question:

When I sit there on the couch and crack a beer and watch my daughter doing whatever the hell it is that she might enjoy doing at around 7 in the evening on a cold winter’s night, am I pretty cool with it, no matter what it is?

I mean, obviously we’re not talking about sitting around watching your teenager play with a cigar box full of crystal meth or anything like that. But what I am throwing at you is this: Do you find yourself feeling awkward or uneasy if your daughter isn’t always (or ever) doing the kind of "girly" things that generations and generations of people (now mostly dead) once beat into our heads?

If you don’t, then you and me are in the same papa ship, bud. And we ought to recognize the true love shining down on that cold hard fact.

But if you do, man, if you smirk or snicker at your little girl showing more genuine interest in soccer than ballet, or digging toy trucks more than Barbies, or dressing up in that old ratty Batman costume way more than she ever wears that precious little princess get-up you felt all big-cuddly-teddy-bear dude about last year when you dropped sixty bucks on the thing in the name of what you thought a little girl deserved for Christmas, then I’m gonna need to stop you right here and now to remind you of one shining certainty that you might have missed along the way to this exact point in time.

Your daughter probably doesn’t need you to tell her who to be.

She simply needs you to help her get there.

And no amount of force-feeding her the old ways, in your humble defense/as unconscious as they may be—none of that old-school dadness pouring out of you like ancient corked wine, your well-meant words and actions reeking of institutionalized sexism wrapped in a mildewy shroud—NONE of that kind of horse-blinder love will ever change what kind of blood flows hot and flush through a little girl’s veins.

It won’t. It never did. But girls pretended for so long. Then women pretended for so long. As the men, as the dads and later the husbands, pretended they were right when they taught their daughters and their wives exactly how to be.

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Don’t do that, dude.

I’m telling you, you’ll regret on your death bed. Because there will be a gulf between you and your daughter, small as you may have pretended it was all this years, that will haunt you out of this world and straight into whatever is waiting for your manly ass on the flip side of the wall.

I look at my Violet now and I’m down with whatever. Long as it doesn’t involve Rambo knives or booze or dope or live explosives, I’m pretty much ready for whatever she finds on her own. For whatever path she wants to take.

Do I throw ideas at her, suggest things here and there?

You’re damn right I do. But I don’t force stuff. That was something that came about when I landed in these single-dad shoes and was too exhausted to even try. Now that I’m waking up, though, and realizing the man I want to be ... well, it might have turned out to be the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.

I’m a daddy who doesn’t mind who my daughter wants to be, as long as she wants to be good and decent. And as long as she never forgets me and never forgets my love for her. No matter where she wanders. No matter what she might be up to. No matter if she’s alone and far away and trying to figure it all out.

Call me, kid.

I’ll be waiting by the phone.

We both know that.

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