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It Took Having a Girl to Realize I Didn’t Fully Understand Them

Jul 2, 2019

Boys and girls aren’t all that different.

Out of the packaging, babies of any gender look pretty much the same: smooth skin; big head; squirmy limbs; dirty, leaky or both. 

Really, the only major difference can be established with a diaper change. Which, I’ll admit, did come as a bit of a shock.


Relevant Reading: My Daughter is Beautiful and I'm Going to Tell Her So


The first few times I changed my daughter’s diaper, for example, I had a flash of panic as though an important piece had fallen off.

My previous two had been boys, and I guess I was used to seeing a penis.

Usually differences do not, or should not, matter.

But having a girl opened this father’s eyes pretty darn wide.

A Gendered Mindset

Soon after she was born, the “explosion of pink” happened — two huge bundles of hand-me-downs arrived on my doorstep from friends and family.

I call it this because its impact was very much like the asteroid event which generally rounds out the many dinosaur documentaries I watched with my two older sons.

The bundles were stuffed with dresses, skirts and leggings, along with plenty of T-shirts and pants. And yeah, not everything in the bundles were pink, but it felt like all pink to me and there was so much that it felt like we may never cram these gendered clothes back into the bundles ever again.

At the time, if you had asked me if our family wore gendered clothing, I probably would have said no. It took a long time — and gentle prodding from my wife — to realize that gendered colours were already a big part of our family’s life.

My boys rarely wore coral or turquoise and they never wore pink.

It can take something different, like the arrival of a daughter, to recognize your own habits and prejudices.

Have I changed my buying habits since then? No way. My takeaway from that experience was that I had a blind spot on gender and the best I can do is be mindful of that blind spot. If I went with my gut, pink would be banned from the house. Instead, I let her take the lead and let her know casually I'm not all that crazy about gendered colours, which is true.


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Baby Steps

In fact, my daughter teaches me lessons over and over again as we make our way through the stages of development that seemed so familiar to me with my boys.

To be clear, I don’t believe that having a daughter turns dads into feminists.

I believe feminism is the idea that women and men are equal. And I hope that most people either start there or aspire to that ideal.

To be clear, I don’t believe that having a daughter turns dads into feminists.

Having a daughter is just one more good reason to fan and protect those flames of progress.

Being a father of a daughter just brings this home; we all want the best opportunities for our kid, right? And having two older boys certainly makes it easier to put equal treatment into practice. Am I treating her differently? How did I treat her brothers at this age? (Be honest). A simple rule doesn't cover all situations, for sure.

At the moment, she isn't sure whether she'd like to be a hairdresser or an engineer. My inner voice is screaming, "Engineer!" but so far I've stuck with, "Either of those sound great, but it sure would be cool to have an engineer in the family." (I'm going for the long game.)

In fact, I believe having kids is always a precious opportunity to take a stroll in someone else’s little shoes, especially if those shoes have a colour or style that you might not have chosen for yourself.

And while boys and girls aren’t all that different at first glance, their experiences most certainly are.

Sometimes you need a girl to cup your head in her little hands — staring-contest style — and just hold your gaze in order to really, really see it.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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