I took the bus to St. Jude’s Catholic School in first grade, but as happens sometimes, I missed the bus one day. No worries – my dad happened to be off work that day and was able to take me to school. The easiest mode of transportation? I rode in the sidecar of his motorcycle for the brief few miles to the school. This was no big deal to me. I’d ridden in the sidecar and on the back of the bike plenty of times with my little arms wrapped around my dad and my heavy helmet weighing on my head. I’d grown up around Dad’s motorcycle.
But my classmates? Yea, I guess not too many 6-year-olds get dropped off at Catholic School in the sidecar of a motorcycle. For a week, I was the smallest celebrity in the school. The big, scary and popular EIGHTH-GRADERS were even talking to little first-grade me. The nuns gave me a funny sort of look. I was a good student, but I had, you know, arrived at school… on a MOTORCYCLE. I’m not sure they knew what to think. Other than basking in the sudden popularity that week, I didn’t think much of it. That was Dad.
When I was in Brownie Girl Scouts, our troop “cookie mom” was also Dad. During my elementary school years, Dad took us out on the boat, out fishing and to the deer lease, where he taught my sister and I how to drive a truck and how to shoot – and respect – guns.
As I entered adolescence, friends, school and my own activities took on a bigger role in my life, and I was probably always a little closer to my mom, but there were still activities that were very clearly opportunities for just Dad and me, such as the years he coached my softball team when no one else would step up to bat. Today, I continue to consult Dad on the stuff Dad knows – be it related to long-distance trips, home-buying or – believe it or not – sewing. We have had our clashes (let’s not get into politics), but the early experiences we shared forged an important bond.
Not surprisingly, my experiences are part of a common thread in the lives of young girls. A new qualitative study (pdf) asked 43 daughters and 43 fathers (though not related to one another) to write about the “turning points” in their father-daughter relationships. The authors, Elizabeth Barrett and Mark Morman at Baylor University, asked the study participants specifically to write about the turning points in closeness in their relationship with their father or daughter.
Some are the expected moments, such as a daughter getting married (the second most mentioned turning point by father and daughters) or a girl’s first dating experiences. (Of course, my father was the one who found it funny to answer the door to a potential suitor with a shotgun just to see his reaction. You had to be thick-skinned and have a good sense of humor to date me!) Others involved leaving home. But the number one cited “turning point” by both fathers and daughters was “participating in activities together.” The shared activities often involved sports, but they also involved other activities and even travel experiences like road trips.
The top five moments listed by the daughters included participating in activities, marriage, physical distance from her father, maturing and developing a friendship with her father and having children. Fathers’ top five moments included participating in activities together, a daughter’s marriage, the daughter’s first dating experiences, a daughter’s first claim of independence and physical distance from their daughter. But what the experiences described primarily had in common was the fact that they existed at all: the relationship between dad and daughter matters.
Throughout this week and last, I’ve heard a number of interviews and NPR radio stories about Betty Friedan, given that the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique has arrived. The best of these interviews and discussions (though unfortunately only a few of them) have talked not only about how Friedan’s book changed women’s lives but also how it changed men’s lives.
Whereas men were once not allowed in labor and delivery rooms to see their child born, they are now expected to be labor coaches. Whereas it was once a novelty for a man to give his baby a bottle now and then, we now expect men to change as many diapers and get up (almost) as often as mom does for the baby. Companies have not kept pace with these changes, and the work-family balance is tougher than ever on men and women, but there is now at least an understanding that it is not strange for a man to want to devote time to child-rearing and spending time with his children.
Certainly I am grateful that I was born in the late 70s, when the second wave of the Women’s Movement had paved the way for me to have more choice in the balance I wanted to (try to) strike between work and family (regardless of how difficult it continues to be). I can legally serve on a jury, and I don’t need my husband’s permission to work outside the home – both of which were not true for many women in the U.S. in 1963, the year The Feminine Mystique was published. But I’m also grateful for the ways that book spurred a movement that encouraged fathers to be more involved in the lives of their children, including their daughters.