This week we’re doing a series about some of the concepts that Peggy Orenstein writes about in her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Stay tuned for more posts from some of the other writers here!

I’ll admit, I haven’t read the book. Early last year, The Diane Rehm Show on NPR featured an interview with Ms. Orenstein. There’s certainly no way for me to comment on the entirety of the book in this post, but I’d like to comment briefly on the overt sexualization of young girls. Ms. Orenstein aptly describes frequent situations in which young girls (teen, pre-teen, tween, pre-tween, preschool, etc.) are thrust into an atmosphere dripping with sexuality. Abercrombie and Fitch (I know – shocking) came under fire last March for selling a push-up bikini for young girls. When faced with this kind of environment, these girls react the way anyone would – they adapt, they react, they incorporate, they do their best imitation of a sponge and soak it all up.

I don’t personally have a problem with Cinderella, Barbie, Aurora, Belle, pink, purple, fairies, crowns, or even the occasional tutu. They’re all crammed into various bins and boxes in our playroom as I type. Sometimes the girls play with them, sometimes the boys parade around the house in a much too small leotard. At this point in my parenting life, there’s not much that will faze me when I walk in the door after work. However, there is a significant problem, as Ms. Orenstein claims, with equating your daughter’s (or any woman, for that matter) value with her sexual appeal or behavior. Some may think that we as parents are paving the way for sexualizing our girls with the occasional fingernail polish. I hope not, but it’s a difficult world out there for young women. I hope we’re able to instill in our girls the ability to value their whole self, not just their physical self.

I work a lot with college students. Increasingly, many of our college students are women. Overwhelmingly, they are strong, beautiful, smart, inventive, and independent women. They’re just plain awesome – the kind of women I hope Peyton and Adah resemble when they are in college. I teach a class on college student development each fall and we always focus on interpersonal relationships one week. We usually read Janet Reitman’s piece on the lacrosse scandal at Duke University from Rolling Stone (read it if you have a chance – really good piece of writing). Usually, students reaffirm the thesis that college women live a bit of a Jekyll/Hyde life – during the day women perform well in class, excel in leadership positions, and generally outclass their male peers, while at night the same women reduce themselves, and their clothing, to the sexual playthings of boozed men. The women in class often lament that they see it all too often. They’re genuinely saddened by it. As a father, husband, and brother, so am I.

Peyton’s favorite color is pink. Lately she and Adah have been rocking out with these Vtech Disney Princess Wands:

I don’t think they’re destined for royalty by using this little trinket (sorry, girls). Tomorrow, they’ll jump out of their pink and purple sheets and probably head straight for their new dollhouse. Does that mean that Cinderella ate my daughters? Maybe for now, but I don’t think they’ll sit too well in Cinderella’s tummy. As they grow and develop, we’re going to teach them to love their Cinderella self, their pink self, their emotional self, their cognitive self, their physical self. When it’s time for them to understand their sexual self, I hope it’s on their terms.

I’m a self-proclaimed nerd. This should be nothing new to those of you who know me…I was always much more likely to sit inside than head out for recess. I always loved studying and genuinely enjoyed going to class. Although I’m glad to be done with school, my inner nerd comes out every once in awhile.

I was in a training session for work the other day and we took a learning styles assessment. I love personal assessments, because they teach me to think about my own style in new ways. I don’t think I learned anything groundbreaking from this particular assessment, but there was a section about learning styles and parenting that I thought was interesting. Also, for other nerds out there, you can read more about learning styles and experiential learning here.

We all learn and make sense of the world in different ways. There are four learning styles (learning by doing, learning by experiencing, learning by reflecting, and learning by thinking). You can probably think of your preferred learning style just from the descriptions. When we parent, we will most often teach in the style that we prefer. But are we being sensitive to how our children would like to learn? Or should we try to strengthen weaker styles with our kids? Here is a brief description of the styles for kids:

Learning Styles

After reading through the styles, do you have any inclinations about your kids? Of course, the best approach with your kids is using a blend of styles. Interesting stuff, huh? Told you I was a nerd.

Becoming a parent has been an interesting ride for me. I liken it to Josh Baskin’s experience in the seminal classic, “Big.” I’m not going to rehash the plot, because I know you’ve all seen it (and memorized Josh and Billy’s epic rap, “Shimmy shimmy cocoa pop…”), but I feel that my trip through parenting has followed a similar arc to Josh’s adventures. I wanted to be a father really badly – almost enough to swing by the state fair and find a Zoltar machine. Joanne and I wished and prayed and hoped and dreamed and did a seance and thought, “did we just do a seance?,” and it finally worked – in a big way! Thank you Zoltar.

[blunt transition to topical element of post]

Just like Josh, I’ve had some growing pains in the world of fatherhood. I really haven’t had much room to wade into it – it’s been more of a sink or swim kind of experience. What I’ve really wanted out of parenting is to stake a claim on my own brand of fatherhood. I haven’t actively avoided any particular brands of parenting, but I’ve tried to be the kind of dad that suits who I am, rather than someone else.

I’ve struggled a lot recently about things I say to the kids. Usually it’s when I’m in some sort of discipline mode – Peyton is playing ‘keep away’ from Adah and I ask her to stop. Demurely, she smiles (eager to return to tormenting Adah) and I say, “wipe that smile off your face!” WHOA – what did I just say? Wipe that smile off your face?!?! Who am I, Vernon Dursley, with Peyton as my Harry Potter?? Of course I really didn’t intend to wipe Peyton’s smile away. Her smile is unbeatable. However, my moment of regret had me thinking about other things I’ve said that seemingly came out of nowhere, and didn’t represent the “my own brand of parenting” I’d been searching for. Among them:

  • If you do that again…(idle threat – nice move)
  • Not so fast, mister (am I challenging a three year old to a foot race?)
  • I will turn the car around! (basely false, because I want to eat lunch at Five Guys just as much as the kids do)
  • 1….2….2.5….square root of 7….
  • Stop that, or you’re going to your room without dinner (no way would I do this – can you imagine how grumpy this child would be in the morning?)
Please don’t call social services on me! I’m really a good guy deep down. Unlike Josh Baskin, I like being big – so I’m not combing amusement park databases trying to find Zoltar. I still struggle with trying to find my own way of being a dad though.
Have any of you said/done something as a parent that surprised you or that you felt wasn’t like you? How are you all coming in your journey to find your own way of parenting?

When we were expecting triplets, there was much debate in our house about what we hoped the genders of the kids would be. Odds were that we’d have a mix of boys and girls, but really we didn’t know what we wanted or expected. We talked a lot about what we would want if they were all the same gender. Joanne was in the boy camp – convinced that they would be “easier.” (Disclaimer: The scale of easy in our household is often skewed. We’re not well.) The image of three boys running around the house with underwear on their heads making farting noises didn’t do much for my psyche, so I was in the girl camp.

If the triplets were all the same gender, I wanted girls. I know, I know, living with three teenage women under one roof was once a form of torture used by the CIA. Then there’s paying for three weddings (thus my strong advocacy for convents). Maybe I thought I would be exiled from the house in 2020, only to return as an expat when the girls left for college. Of course, none of this really mattered, because Sam came through with a Y chromosome. And I love my boys, even when they giggle about “poopy.” (Wasn’t that supposed to happen much later?) Deep down, though, I just wanted the chance to be a father to a little girl.

What I really wanted was to hear my girls call me “daddy.” There’s just something about when those little alto voices called me “daddy.” It somehow validated who I was as a parent, what I taught them, how I was raising them. It also amplified their innocence and little-ness. After all, I wasn’t ready to assume join them on the dance floor for the father-daughter dance – not just yet.

All of these musings were dashed a few weeks ago when Peyton called me “dad.” Dad? Not cool – I was crestfallen. I cannot be a “dad” already – it’s too soon! Can you blame me? I mean, these are the things that typically follow that three letter word:

  • Can I borrow the car?
  • Stop bothering me!
  • Can I have some money?
  • Get out of my room!
  • You’re embarrassing me!
  •  Go away!
  • Get off the phone!
  • It’s not a party – it’s just going to be a couple of friends.
She only said it once, but neurosis has set in, and I’m determined to reverse the course of this recent malady. Hopefully they’ll call me daddy again soon/forever.

Merriam-webster.com defines father as “a man who has begotten a child”.  I wish it were that simple.  I have been a father for over 18 years, if it was a job I would be considered an expert, and I am still struggling with what that word means.  The word and the concept of fatherhood are different for almost every person I have ever asked.

I know what traits, duties, and concepts are considered part of being a father in our culture.  Fathers are providers, leaders, moral guides, disciplinarians, play mates at times, and of course “father figures”. Like most typical definitions, there are many holes in these ideas.  In today’s society, many times the mom provides the guidance, leadership and discipline.  So is this stereotype of a father outdated and something we should stop using when thinking of fathers?  Do we need a new concept?

For 15 years of my career as a father, I never really thought about this. Growing up I was lucky enough to have what I will strongly argue was the best father in the world.  When it was my turn to be a dad, I just tried to do what I thought he would do and hope for the best. I figured I turned out ok and admired my dad it was good enough. A father was a man who had a child, and behaved himself like my father.  Simple.

Then three years ago, I separated from the mother of my children then met and fell in love with woman that had three boys of her own.  While my boys were in their teens or close, hers were not in elementary school yet.  For reasons that are beyond what I can go over here, the boys did not have a father in their life.  Now I had to reconsider my whole definition of what made a man a father.

What was I to these boys?  Stepfather?  Well, we aren’t married yet. Father?  Well I had not “begotten” them.  Mom’s boyfriend?  Sounds lame and just didn’t fit.  The boys call me by my name, I participate in their daily life, provide discipline and guidance and play with them.  The question of what I was to them entered my mind a few times, but I dismissed it.  I’m a simple guy, and didn’t want to complicate things with thinking and just figured I would just do what I did for the previous 15 years.

This worked ok, until the younger boys started referring to me as “Dad”.  I didn’t have a problem, but my youngest son, 11 at the time, flipped out.  I was HIS dad.  He gets along with the boys, but just would not tolerate hearing the other boys calling me dad.  Therefore, the younger ones kept calling me dad and I introduced myself as their stepdad. Technically, I am not, but it made introductions easier.

Now it’s a few years later and I have a hard time referring to them as step kids, or “your kids”.  I feel towards them just like I do to my “biological” children.  I love them; want them to be safe, healthy, and good men when they grow up.  I lose sleep when they are sick and I want to know how well they are doing at school.  They When they talk about me in school, they refer to me as dad.  Their faces light up when they tell me about the cool salamander they found or the huge snake that they saw at school.

So, am I their father?  According to dictionaries, only biology makes you a father.  I don’t think I buy that.

I would love to hear reader’s thoughts on what makes a father or a mother.