I am the very happy and very proud father of an amazing girl called Ellie. Parenting her has felt like I’ve found my calling. I was meant to father a daughter, which is weird given how set Marti & I were on having a boy to begin with.
Once we had a girl though, we fell in love and wouldn’t have it any other way. I couldn’t even imagine having a boy!
But now, here we are, and we are having a boy, which has forced the reality upon me and got me thinking: how am I going to father a son?
Being a father to Ellie is a role very dear to my heart. The level of responsibility you feel as the father of a daughter can not be estimated until you’re in the midst of it, and I imagine that this will only get stronger as time wears on.
For me, I am a lot of things to Ellie. Fathers and mothers play very unique, independent, varying and important roles in the lives of their children, and it’d be unfair of me to assume what a mother feels about raising children. But as a father, I see myself as Ellie’s provider, protector, nurturer, lover, defender, comforter, advisor, disciplinarian and encourager (among many other things).
It’s a father’s role to protect his daughter. For someone as laid-back and non-confrontational as me, I have become fiercely protective of Ellie. Not in a “have her home by 9, or you’ll find yourself on the wrong end of my shotgun” kind of way, but as a firewall between her and dangerous situations, words and people.
Marti and I work extremely hard to create an environment where Ellie’s passions are fostered, her ideas are championed and her creativity, innocence and freedom are protected. This is about setting boundaries for what I will and will not expose her to.
Ellie will not be subject to teasing, especially by her own family. It’s easy to make light of teasing, and it’s easy to think that it’s done in jest, but words have amazing power, and the brains of children have the amazing capacity to believe whatever they are told, particularly by those closest to them. So if you tell a child she is chubby, she will start believing it and before you know it, she will become very self-conscious.
I will do anything to ensure that Ellie is treated with love and respect, and that she gets her identity from God and from people who build her up, like Marti & me. It is this identity that will allow her to stand up to teasing in the future and reject it, because she knows through and through that she is beautiful and loved.
We don’t put Ellie in a bubble. On the contrary, we want Ellie to experience the world, to make mistakes, to trip and fall and get back up again, to handle situations by herself and to sit back and watch as she grows into a critical thinker and fully-functioning and highly-contributing member of society and community.
The kind of protection that I’m talking about is on par with not allowing your children to play with fire. Both are equally dangerous in my book. Just as I wouldn’t want to Ellie to be around matches or lighters until she is old enough to understand the dangers and work with them safely, so I want to protect her precious and untrained heart from harsh words and actions until she is old enough to know better than to believe and accept them.
That’s a partial view of the role as the father to a daughter that I have taken on. Everyone’s view on what that looks like will vary, and certain items will feature more prominently, but that’s an insight to what mine looks like.
I do not yet have a son. Well, I do, but apparently, this week he is about the size and weight of an iPhone and I have never seen his face in any other fashion than the grainy greyscale of reflected sound waves. So I have not yet met my son, nor have I had the chance to be a father to him.
Yet, as I ponder the future and what it will be like to have Jack, I have a very different view of what it will mean to be a father to a son.
At first thought, I don’t see myself as much of a protector to him as I do to my daughter, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that that’s not the case. I need to protect Jack just as much as I protect Ellie: his little mind will be just as impressionable as Ellie’s is and him being a boy means he is no less likely to suffer from having ill spoken over him.
I do see myself as coming alongside Jack more than I do with Ellie. I’m not female, and I don’t know what it’s like to be female. But I do know what it’s like to love females and I plan to model healthy love to Ellie both directly and indirectly through my marriage to Marti. Whereas with Ellie, it’s about modeling what love from men should look like until the day that she has a husband to take over that role, for Jack, it’s more about teaching him to be that good, loving man. As the only other man in the house, it’s my duty to teach him what being a good son, man, husband and ultimately father looks like, because heaven knows, society’s and culture’s perception of what being an acceptable husband and father falls far short of my mark.
Taking the advisor role to heart, I plan to give him the same freedom to make mistakes as Ellie gets, but when he asks questions and seeks advice, I see being able to better relate to him and to serve up guidance from my own well of experience.
Men and women are different: it’d be foolish to deny that. It’d also be foolish to think that my experience and knowledge is of no use to Ellie, but equally, I think it’s importance to realise that a man will always be able to better understand another man than he does a woman. We think differently and it can be hard to anticipate how the other sex might think about a situation, but we can rely on our own experiences to get a feel for how we might respond.
I imagine that when Jack is born and I get to experience being a father to him, my viewpoint will change and my role as a father will be more different than I could have imagined, but I think there’s a lot of truth to what’s going on in my head. One thing I can be sure of is that Ellie and Jack will know, feel and see real love, and will grow up in an encouraging and nurturing environment: it just might look a little different for each of them.