Friday, May 01, 2009

The Biggest Winner

"I want to be muscular, like Jillian."

That's what Superpounce told me not long ago. I nearly jumped up and high-fived myself. And this may be the prime reason why every middle-aged man should run and exercise: so healthy habits of self-determination will rub off on the progeny.

You see, as the dad of a daughter, I've probably become a little bit more of a feminist than I otherwise would have been. Part of that has been an increased awareness of the differences between the difficulties faced by boys, and those faced by girls in their respective struggles to reach healthy adulthood. As a dad, I figure that a good portion of my job is to make myself obsolete--transport this child from helpless infancy to healthy adulthood where I'm nice to have around, but strictly speaking, no longer needed.

Either shortly before or shortly after Superpounce was born, I read several books about the unique challenges of bringing up girls and how important Dad's messages are to girl growing. One of those books was Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. The book chronicles how girls enter a dark tunnel around age 13 or so, becoming less confident, more subservient to boys, less likely to learn, more likely to suffer from eating disorders, etc. It hypothesizes how media messages and other societal forces play a role in causing this tunneling, and (if I recall correctly) notes positive influences like sport and the influence of a father that combat those forces.

With that book on my mind these past 11 years, I have observed and influenced the objects of Superpounce's pop culture admiration to notice and impact what is influencing her. When she asked to be a cheerleader, for example, I declined. "Why cheer for someon else," I inquired, (especially boy football players). "Wouldn't it be better to be the one people are cheering for?"

I've also been trying to model good "dad" behavior by admiring strong women worthy of admiration--watching women's sport, avoiding air-headed pop culture fluff, surrounding 'Pounce and the family with good people, Ironman finishers and other athletes of all types, and of course doing my best to walk the walk with my own conditioning. None of this is in hopes that 'Pounce will be a scholarship athlete and live out any athletic fantasy of mine from days gone by. She does have my genetics, after all, and I can only smile when the small, skinny daughter of a 5'5" dad dreams of playing basketball.

The reason, in addition to my own health, is so that Superpounce will say something like the words I heard while watching Biggest Loser--as a family while she works out as she always does. "I want to be muscular, like Jillian." Those words carry more than admiration of a pop-culture icon. They also buy into her message self-worth and power and her rejection of victimhood. "I want to be muscular, like Jillian," is effectively the pop-culture opposit of "I wanna be rich like Paris Hilton" or "I wanna be skinny, like Lindsay Lohan," or "I wanna be a singer, like Brittany Spears." Those words made me feel like "The Biggest Winner."

Sure, she can be rich if that's in the cards. She can even be a knock out and a singer. She can be or do anything she wants. But she can do it from a position of physical and personal power rather than personal exploitation or pain.

Because she's muscular like Jillian. Look out, world.


Molly said...

I feel very lucky to have had a physicist for a father, who decided day 1 that I was going to be a scientist. Not that I was ever pressured to do anything but that I was always encouraged to do things in traditionally male fields if it interested me. And right around I hit that time of self-doubt at the start of adolescence - and it hits no matter what you do, it's just a function of how hard - my whole family got our black belts in Tae Kwon Do together. Being a 12 year old girl with a black belt and knowing you kick butt at math and science adds a lot of confidence to the otherwise overwhelmed teenage girl's mind.

You're doing a wonderful job with your daughter and you two will survive teenagerhood well as a result! :)

IronMatron said...

Daughters totally look to their dads for confirmation of their worth. What the dad confirms as worthy is SO important. You are right! As a father you have more influence than pop culture--you really do. If you show her that what makes you proud of her is her strength and intelligence, she will carry that into adulthood--and into the relationships she has an adult. kudos to you

21stCenturyMom said...

As your liberal, feminist, triathlating bud from Cahl-ee-forn-ia I'd just like to say this -

Superpounce is lucky to have you as a Dad. She will be in a great position to navigate those dark adolescent waters which, if what I see in Pop culture is any indication, just get darker by the day.

stronger said...

This post both frightens me and makes me feel proud. Frightened for the messages E will receive from her father at that age and proud that my friend is steering his daughter in the right direction.

CoachLiz said...

Way to go Greyhound! I want to be muscular like Jillian too! Keep up the positive influences and she will grow up with her head on straight.

I hope my good appetite, and cleaning my plate and going back for seconds was a good influence on Pounce as well. You have eat if you want to enjoy life.

The Young Zoo said...

I'm usually not much of a commenter but had to chime in on this one. As the Dad of a 14 yr old girl I too think and worry about these things all the time. Another great book to read on the topic is "Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters" by Meg Meeker. I've re-read it several times just to keep the ideas fresh in my mind.

Trishie said...

What a lucky girl you have --- to have a father that is no doubt a positive influence and understands the trials and tribulations of being a teenage girl. How wonderful that she wants to be "muscular like Jillian" ... you have clearly done a wonderful job raising her, dad !