First Person: Petaluman reflects on raising a daughter amid casual sexism
“Don't teach your daughter how to golf,” said the man on the golf course, a stranger I’d only just met. “Teach her how to drive a cart and mix cocktails.”
That’s more or less an exact quote.
“Wow,” I answered in response, "you sound like an inspiring father. If you have a daughter, she is one lucky lady.”
That's exactly what I said.
In my mind.
And not until one day later, when I was re-playing how I could have — and probably should have — answered that grumpy man out on the grass. Honestly, I only thought up that comeback while telling my mother-in-law about my frustration over not having a witty remark to that poisonously sexist one.
I suppose I should explain why I was even talking to this guy.
My cousin had come to visit me, and he wanted to squeeze in some golf. We rushed to our local course, and asked if there was a chance we could jump in last-minute and play nine holes. They were booked until 4 p.m., but suggested that if we hurried to the first tee, we might be able to join a twosome that had two cancellations in their party.
We rushed through the first hole and made it to the second tee, where we met our companions for the morning. The second hole was quiet, but we started chatting with our new friends on the third hole.
I love to chit-chat, and I'm naturally curious about people. Plus, it was just good form to get acquainted since we would be with them for a couple of hours.
You might be thinking, “A couple of hours?"
Well, yeah. I suck at golf.
At one point I told one of the players that I had a baby girl, to which he said that I needed to start her early on teaching her the game since there are so many scholarships available for girls who played the sport. Before I was able to respond that my father-in-law thought the same - and that my wife bought a small wooden golf set we keep at his house for him to play with her -- his friend jumped in.
Now, I'm not saying that driving a cart and making cocktails is beneath anyone. But I had a problem with the tone it was delivered in, and by what he clearly meant. He was saying that women were not meant to play the sport, only were meant to serve the people playing the sport.
I walked away, unable to quickly come up with a sardonic enough remark. I couldn't hit a ball straight the rest of the course. Don't get me wrong. I am terrible at golf, so not hitting a ball straight is nothing unusual. But I couldn't shake off the frustration that this man caught me by surprise, and I felt like I betrayed my daughter by not speaking up.
Not long ago, we were having a play date with some friends, who happen to have a boy and a girl. My daughter, at the time, had just started eating solids. The little boy was feeding my daughter blackberries. He would put the blackberry on the palm of his hand and then offer it to my daughter, who would lean her head into the hand and eat it.
As a father, my armor was pierced, and I saw the beauty of the moment. At that moment, I knew I wouldn't be one of those fathers that have to be overly protective of his daughter, and he would feel proud if she found a loving and stable relationship.
But as I watched the beautiful moment happen, the boy's mom says, “He learned how to do it last week at a petting farm."
Insert the sound of a metaphorical balloon popping.
“Are you calling my daughter a farm animal?”
That’s exactly how I responded.
In my head.
I know my friend didn't mean anything by it. But I'm constantly feeling defensive of my daughter because awkward interactions keep flying at me. For example, another friend of my family is always trying to marry my daughter off to one of her nephews.
“I'm still changing her diapers. Is this the best time to have this conversation?”
My friend keeps showing me pictures of the baby boy in her family who she wants to marry my daughter to. I saw the baby, and I did what we all do when someone is showing you pictures you don't care about. You spew some platitudes about health and happiness.
Before the conversation was over, my daughter was more-or-less betrothed. What can I say? It put me on the spot. No one talks about this in parenting books.
I called my childhood best friend in Colombia. He has a daughter who is now 5. I figured that if anybody has had to deal with this it is him. Indeed, he deals with it often. People keep trying to marry his daughter off. I asked him how he handled it, and he told me he’s developed two methods.
1. If the kid is not there, he tells the interested party, “When he is of age, send me his tax returns so I can verify his assets and estate.”
2. If the kid is there, he looks at the child intently until everybody is uncomfortable, and then he turns back to the parents and simply says, “No. He is too ugly.”
Okay. I am not sure I have the cojones to pull such retorts off. I also don't want to teach my daughter that she needs to get married based on looks or financial statements. But I know where my friend is coming from.
Asking to promise your child’s future to another child is one of the weirdest situations you can put a father in. I clearly react to them poorly myself. The first time it happened — oh, yeah, there is more than one time — I just let it happen.
But it ate me alive for three days.
I was so upset. The point is that these awkward conversations catch most people off-guard, like the man who told me I should teach my daughter how to mix drinks instead of teaching her how to golf.
I woke up the following day, after playing the nine holes, with my back extremely sore. I could barely walk. I wondered if the universe was sending me a message for not speaking up.
But time has passed and I’ve been thinking about it. I now know I am ready for such conversations. People might have not heard the news, but the future is female. My daughter will have the option to make whatever decision she sees fit.
And I will always have her back no matter what she chooses.
So, the next time someone says something like “Don’t teach your daughter to golf,” I’ll tell that person it’s not up to me if she plays golf or not. I’ll just say, “I’m raising my daughter to be a strong woman — and strong women don’t let other people make decisions for them.”