This past year has really changed the relationship I have with my kids, as I'm sure it did with most parents. We were simply around each other much more than in previous years, and due to the birth of my daughter last April, I had an extra opportunity to be home with my family. Over the past year I have taken almost 14 weeks off of work, between FMLA leave and PTO, to be with my family. The relationship I believe this affected the most, was the one with my now, 1 year old daughter. I've had more one-on-one time with her during her first year than probably all three of her older brothers combined. Maybe it's because we are more experienced parents, battle tested by her three older brothers, or maybe she's just a really easy baby, but whatever it is a I'm very grateful of the relationship we've formed.
If you know me, you know I am a pretty vocal feminist, and have been for as long as I can remember. I didn't label it that when I was younger, it was just who I was. However, as I became older, I learned that adults have a name for it and that it's called being a feminist. To me it's as natural as smiling. I don’t know why I'm that way. I often credit it to my mom who raised me, and who taught me what it means to grind through life. It could be both of my grandmothers who I noticed as very strong women while I was growing up. Many of my mentors, or people I've looked up to, have been women, so that could be part of it too. Whatever the reason, it's there, and I'm already noticing the result of having a daughter, and the amount of hyperdrive my feminist belief's and actions have taken.
I'm the kind of person that will correct you if you generically say mail man, instead of mail person. Even the term man hours irks me, and I would much rather hear person hours. I received an eye roll from my wife when my boys built a snow man this past winter, and I asked how they knew it wasn't a snow woman or snow person. So many of you would call me the annoying type. Since the birth of my daughter though, I've felt an additional subliminal motivation to make the world a better, more equitable, place. I feel it may be similar to what some expecting mothers feel when they're nesting, however I'm naively trying and failing to right the world for her before she grows up.
But what's a girl dad to do to prepare his little girl for the inequitable reality of our current world? That question has kept me up at night on more than one occasion. It goes back to what I talked about in a previous article (The Bounce Back) and focusing on controlling the controllable. I need to lead beyond the walls of work and my career. I need to lead in life. I believe I must…
Model the way. I must lead by example. I must continue to stand up for all that I say I believe in. I want to be a dad that makes her proud and baselines her expectations of what a good man is.
Raise great men. I have three little boys who watch my every move, who try to look and act like Dad. I talk to them every time I see a form of gender inequality taking place, or I hear them say something that reaffirms a social norm that further perpetuates the gender inequality problem. And those three boys love them some little sister. They're all great with her and want to protect her. That does help make teaching moments somewhat less theoretical than it was in the past. "How would you feel if Oakley was trying to X and someone told her "no" because she's a girl?". I do believe it clicks much more with them now.
Maintain high expectations. Not just for myself, but for society. My daughter turns one this week, and I can't even fathom the world she's going to be living in 15 years from now. I feel change happens so fast nowadays that I can barely keep up. I do hope the world she confronts is a better place, and I do have high expectations for it. So society, you've been put on notice. I expect more from you.
In hinds sight I was cognizant about the importance of being a leader for my kids to look up to prior to the birth of my daughter. But I feel I'm experiencing the perfect storm that many parents feel. Watching my older kids pay a little more attention to how I react or approach situations, repeating the words that I say, watching all of that manifest on the playground with other kids, and questioning how I can positively effect all of this for my little one year old Oakley. If you have little ones at home, or maybe you're an aunt, uncle or friend of little ones that you interact with on a regular basis, I have two, not profound or ground breaking, reminders for you his week:
Be cognizant of your words and actions, and talk with the kids when you stray from who you are. This could be a quick bout of road rage, an overly assertive response when they're on your last nerve or really anything that doesn't align with who you want to be. Let them know that you're not perfect, we all slip up and just as you're not defining who they are by their mistakes, your mistakes don't define you. As an adult you're modeling accepted behaviors, and as kids, they're watching and mimicking everything. Be intentional.
This is a heavily biased and personal one: do not tolerate gender inequality with children. Even if you feel like shifting the tide of society is too much, that's fine, but when you hear your kid say, "you throw like a girl", educate them on how derogatory that is to little girls. These are trained behaviors, not natural ones, and are reflective of you as a parent.
As I write this article I struggle to not seem as preachy as I typically do in my articles in the Lead Your Career collection. Mostly because I have much more confience and proven ability to navigate a career than I do parenthood. Careers, job performance, and advancement opportunities offer much more predictability than children. Home situations, belief systems, and children's individuality differ so greatly from family to family that I can't, nor would I want to offer general parenting advice. This article was spurred by how I've responded to being a dad since the birth of my daughter one year ago, as well as a personal bar I'm setting for myself. I can't fix the world for her, and I would probably do more harm to her trying to protect her from the reality of it. All I can really do is my best to be the dad she deserves. So here's to hoping. Thanks for the lessons in life, Oakley.
Note: All of the opinions expressed in this article are my own, and are not a reflection of the viewpoint of my employer.