How could she possibly think I believed boys were better than girls? How could she possibly hesitate to answer that question when posed to her? Have I not been careful to persuade her that real worth derives from her similar image to God and not the Hollywood images pervasive in our culture? Can she not discern by all objective standards in our home that her treatment is at least on par, if not more preferential, than that of her two brothers? Have I not been careful to convince my daughter how sweet, precious, and valuable I think she is? Evidently not, my wife enlightened me. “Mary is very sensitive,” she proclaimed. "She is especially sensitive to what you say." Apparently little things I say are contradicting my louder sermons. It made me think hard about potential discrepancies between my practicing and my preaching.
I will claim a certain ignorance, however, when it comes to understanding the fairer sex. I mean, I’m a guy, and I like guy things. I understand the universal language testosterone produces. I like sports, fishing, guns, and sweating. I love competition and conquest too. I spent most of my early years playing every sport you could play and I spent plenty of time in locker rooms where my psyche was apparently damaged beyond repair. We recognized our position on the predatory chain and our generally physical superiority to the female of the species. Those locker rooms indoctrinated my malleable mind with the jock jargon that I carry until this day.
It’s not a particularly high brow method of communication. Mostly it consists of men trying to outdo one another with each successive insult. A caddie at the Greenbrier once reminded me after leaving a ten foot putt short, “I think you left your lipstick over by the edge of the green.” My favorite emasculating insult suffered on the links, however, is, “nice putt, Sally, does your husband play golf too?” One indignity wrought upon the weakest rebounder in basketball practice was called the pink panty drill. All players gathered under the basket as a coach started throwing up balls off the rim while the ravenous wolves below scuffled for the bounding sphere. As each player acquired the ball he sat down leaving the last remaining player to suffer the humiliation of wearing the colorful undergarment atop his shorts for the duration of practice. Multiple variations of this pastel put down exist for other sports too. It never bothered me, though, even if I was the unfortunate cross-dresser. It simply strengthened my resolve to try harder. It's who we are as men. It's the hunter-gatherer instinct. Mostly, it's how we were bred.
So, even now, when my two sons whine or pout or complain about some insignificant malady, I affectionately refer to them as my “two girls.” They respond in kind by calling me their “ugly mother with a moustache.” To us these are terms of endearment, nothing more than playful banter with a slightly subliminal (well ok, maybe not so subliminal) message to toughen up. To us, it doesn’t constitute an insult to women, but rather an exhortation to each other. But, evidently, they are not so endearing to my daughter’s maturing ears when she hears our conversations.
How could I be so stupid? Despite all my other attempts to validate her equality or even superiority to men; she interprets these trivial exchanges as paternal approval for female subjugation. To some extent it’s irrelevant what the truth is because her perception is reality. And, my words have caused her to question herself and potentially damage her already tenuous self esteem at this very vulnerable point in her life. It shouldn’t be that way. I should be the one man in her life who makes her feel good about who she is and the potential she possesses.
I hope she forgives me. I hope it’s not too late to reform my incivility. I hope one day she can say she knows more about God because she knew me. I better get started though, because she’ll be a teenager soon. And, every day I'm becoming more keenly aware of all the work I've left to do on myself and the very short time I've left to do it....