Caroline with Ball
Photo by Phoebe Lisle at Miss Pickle Photography

Dear Caroline,

I typically address these posts to all three of you girls, in large part to spread the potential embarrassment. But you said I could write one directly to you, embarrassment or no. So here goes.

A few years ago, without meaning to, you taught me an important lesson about being a dad to girls in today’s world.

It was right around the time you discovered makeup and social media, and I started to worry that my little girl was growing up before my eyes. In my mind, it started to seem like you were splitting your afterschool time equally between soccer practice (which made perfect sense to me) and makeup-related YouTube videos (which made no sense at all).

As your long-time coach, this division of attention concerned me. Couldn’t time spent lengthening lashes be better spent out in the cul-de-sac, kicking the ball? You know, the way we used to, when I’d come home from work and you’d be waiting for me in the driveway, ball-in-hand?

As your father, the idea of makeup and social media concerned me even more. What might you be doing behind that (literal and metaphorical) closed door? Who were these people you were watching on YouTube? And who might be watching you?

My concerns came to a head one evening, when you skipped down the stairs before practice wearing soccer socks and shorts, a sports bra, and enough eyeliner to make a Kardashian stare.

“Nice look,” I commented, as you stopped at the fridge to fill your water bottle.

“Thanks,” you replied. “My practice jersey is still downstairs in the dryer. I’ll get it in a second.”

I nodded. “I was talking about the eye makeup,” I said.

“Oh,” you said. “I was experimenting with something. I don’t have time to take it off before practice.”

I nodded again, though the idea of experimenting with eye makeup was utterly alien. “So tell me,” I asked, “what are you trying to be these days, a killer on the soccer field or a bona fide beauty queen?”

You gave me a look every father of teen girls knows–the one that says, “Oh God, my dad is a moron.” Then you said, simply, “Both!” and shuffled downstairs to fetch your jersey.

Meanwhile, I had a minor epiphany in our kitchen. In a sudden flash, I saw an important truth: You had no use at all for the old stereotypes in my head (and our cultural history) that said girls could either be “tomboys” or “girly girls.”

For you, tomboy and girly girl, soccer killer and beauty queen, weren’t existential choices. They were just potential moments in a single day, pursuits that could easily overlap–when, say, you had to find your practice jersey and didn’t have time for makeup removal.

And that, I realized, was exactly right. It was what I had always wanted for you girls.

I wanted you to live in a world where you were free to follow your interests where they led. Not bound by sexist stereotypes that said “girls shouldn’t be x,” or constrained by silly assumptions like “getting gussied up  is incompatible with going for goals.” That dichotomy was my hang-up, not yours.

And that meant that I was doing you wrong on one level–though, on another level, it also meant that we must have done something right. After all, you really were turning into a strong, independent woman before my eyes, a killer/queen ready to take on the world on her own terms.

Since then, I’ve seen you rush home from the field, more than once, to help a friend (or a sister) do her makeup before a dance. And I’ve remembered how wrong I was that day, and how glad I am about that.

It gives me hope for the future, both for you and for the world. It also makes me very proud of you, for all the killer, beautiful, brilliant things you do.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s