by guest blogger Jeff Csatari, executive editor of special projects for Men’s Health
I live in a house full of estrogen: nine X chromosomes, one guY. My wife and I have three wonderful daughters—girlie-girls, all of them—and like any dad, I’m lovestruck. But I have to admit it’s a challenge trying to stay true to my guy roots in a home so thoroughly dominated by frilly sh*t: Hello Kitty, American Girl, Webkinz paraphernalia. I’ve read Queen Bees and Wannabes. I’ve asked a Lindsay Lohan lookalike at Walgreens if she would direct me to the Tampax aisle. I even know from capris.
All this feels strange because I grew up in a boy’s world, playing tackle football in the mud, capture the flag in the woods, and, with my cousins, a blood-and-bruises game called buck-buck.
I love camping and canoeing and shotgun shooting. I love getting sweaty and dirty with outdoor work—for the pure sense of accomplishment that getting grimy provides. Give me a chainsaw and an oak tree and I’m a man on a mission. Demolition is in my blood. Except when I’m doing braids.
Back in 2006, when our third daughter, Sophia, was born, my wife, Kathy, wondered if I secretly wished we’d had a boy. So did our friends and family. I could see it in their eyes as they searched mine for some inkling of disappointment, some sign that might reveal that after two daughters, I felt entitled to a son, someone I could dig earthworms with.
Honestly, I never felt that way. Not even when the obstetrician told us during the first-trimester checkup that there was an 80 percent chance that this baby would be a she.
“You shoot girl darts, bubba,” he said, winking at me. And that made me a happy man.
I’ve got the best of fatherhood. I get to enjoy what makes girls unique—and bask in all that gaga daddy admiration that only daughters can provide a pop—while giving them the same opportunities and teaching them the same lessons I would a boy. Like these:
• Technique trumps toughness. Life is much easier to navigate if you don’t try to muscle through it. My 13-year-old, Katelyn, and my 10-year-old, Lydia, have already learned, through the LPGA–USGA Girls Golf program, to let the club do the work. They know not to fight a riptide but to swim with it, parallel to the beach, to get out of its grip. Last summer, at the lake, I taught them the J-stroke, a simple technique for keeping a canoe on course. I take great pride in knowing that someday one of my girls will be canoeing with a klutz of a boyfriend who was never a Boy Scout and be able to keep him going straight.
• Patience gets the job done. When my older girls go to sleep without tying up their wet hair, they awaken with a headful of knots that only Dad can get out. Why? Because Kathy has no patience for minutiae. I spray a little No More Tangles on my fingertips and get to the tedious work of pulling the strands apart. It may take 40 minutes, but eventually I’ll get it all without resorting to scissors. I can do this because I’ve learned patience after spending hours unsnarling rats’ nests of monofilament from fishing reels, then even more hours not catching fish. (By the way, I can also touch up Kathy’s roots damn near as well as her stylist, Denise, can—and a lot more cheaply. It’s like using a caulk gun.)
• Protecting yourself is your right. Nothing is more terrifying for a father of daughters than being reminded that there are bad men in the world and that you won’t always be around to play bodyguard. My older girls already know to kick for the cojones, scream, and run. But when the time is right (forgive me), I’ll also make sure they know how to punch for the face with car keys wedged between their fingers and show them how to roll up a magazine and thrust it like a sword straight at a guy’s head. They need to know that they have a right to defend themselves and that even their dog-eared copy of Seventeen can be a powerful weapon.
• You must learn to polka. Here’s the deal: The girls can listen to all the hip-hop they want so long as they learn to polka. Why? (They asked me the same question.) Because the polka is more than a dance, it’s a reminder of their ethnic roots—plus, it’s a fantastic cardio workout! And if they slow it way, way down, they’ve got a serviceable slow dance. Two for one. They will master both before I walk them down the aisle.
Coaching my daughters and troubleshooting problems—these are the ways I shore up my masculinity at Chick Central. It works because, like all guys, I need to feel useful. I need to be loved and admired. I need to be needed as provider, protector, teacher, and mentor. I’m sorry if that sounds too much like old-school machismo, but I relish that daddy role. Deep in the subconscious of most men is the burning desire to be the wise guy who has all the answers, the MacGyver who fixes life’s glitches.
And I believe that girls are more likely than boys to feed that part of my ego. You’ve read Oedipus the King. A boy would compete with me one day. I’ve been a teenage son; I remember how difficult I made it for my dad. And frankly, work is struggle enough.
I need some love.
And that’s what my adoring girls give me. So to preserve my sanity, I’ll continue to pull them into the grimier aspects of life, but I’ll also teach and protect, guide, and, yeah, show off for as long as they’ll let me. It’s what dads do.
Jeff Csatari, executive editor of special projects for Men’s Health, is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Belly Off! Diet, and co-author, with his father Joseph Csatari, of Norman Rockwell’s Boy Scouts of America. He has been reporting and writing about health, fitness, and men’s issues for more than 15 years. Csatari’s other books include Your Best Body at 40+, The Abs Diet Cookbook, co-authored with David Zinczenko, and The Six-Pack Secret.