I have a six month old daughter that I am raising with my strong and brilliant wife. What are the least obvious or most important things I need to know as a father?
Dear Dad (not mine, obviously),
Always leave the toilet seat down. Have hopes for your daughter but love and support her as she is. Teach her how to stand up for herself. If you see someone treating a woman poorly on the street, don’t just frown and walk on by. Say something. Show your daughter that she has a right to move through the world without being harassed by cretins.
Treat your wife the way you want your daughter to be treated by the partner she may someday choose. Seriously, treat your wife well. This will go such a long way besides which, treat your wife well because she is strong and brilliant and you love her and that’s what you do when you love someone–you treat them well.
Participate as fully as you can in household work and don’t call looking after your daughter babysitting because she’s your baby too and therefore, you are engaging in parenting. Take an interest in what interests your daughter and if it’s something you know nothing about, don’t treat her interest like something mysterious or alien because that will only make your daughter feel like you and she will never have anything in common. Share your interests with your daughter. She may not become an avid fly fisherwoman, for example, but she will enjoy getting to know a little about her old man and how he enjoys spending his me time.
In truth, I am fairly ill-equipped to answer this question. I don’t have children. I do, however, have a father. My brothers are fathers. I have many friends who are fathers and I pay attention to how they treat their children, their sons, their daughters, their kids who haven’t decided what gender they yet want to be. One of my brothers calls his daughter his princess but doesn’t treat her like she wears a glass slipper. My other brother has vowed to never raise his voice to his daughter because he doesn’t want her to ever think that’s an acceptable way for a man to speak to her.
My second fondest memory of my own father is the time he helped me build a suspension bridge for a school project out of balsa wood. He’s an engineer so he took to the task with all seriousness but it was something we did together. Decades later, I remember hovering over the kitchen table with him and I remember when we were done and I stared at our bridge, and I thought, “Look what my Dad helped me do.” My fondest memory of my father is when he visited me once at boarding school. We were walking through campus and he remarked, “How come you are always walking alone?” I was a bit of a social outcast so I said, “No one wants to walk with me.” It was not my finest moment. My dad nodded gravely and put his arm around my shoulder. He said, “I’ll walk with you.” And he did. And he still does. No matter how you raise your daughter, be willing to walk with her when no one else will, and she’ll be just fine.
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Roxane Gay is the editor of The Butter.