In our Daddy Issues series, a father of a young daughter seeks guidance, hoping to raise a strong woman. He looks to feminism—and readers—for help.
I have no memories of my father's penis. Or my mom's vagina, for that matter.
In fact, the only time I can remember seeing more than I wanted to of any family member was when I walked in on my brother in the bathroom. He was exposed, standing over the sink and incredibly ... endowed. It wasn't until I became a teenager and found myself locked in the bathroom that I thought, "Oh."
Growing up, the body was never regarded in our family as a "dirty" thing, something to be ashamed of or hidden. It also wasn't exalted, or even exposed or discussed. I can't remember one instance when I saw my parents in even semi-dress, other than my dad tanning himself in shorts in the backyard or my mom in an occasional pool side swim suit. As far as I can remember, they were the founding members of the "never nude" club, so it seems something of a miracle they managed to have three boys.
Of course, years later with a wife and a daughter of my own, I know that's not the case at all. I've been thinking a lot recently about the naked body, now that my daughter is getting older. When she was younger, she'd see my wife or I stepping out of the shower and with a toddler's curiosity, she'd point and stare and ask questions. We replied matter-of-factly with actual names: penis, vagina, breasts. No big deal.
But now she's nearly 4-and-a-half, and I'm beginning to wonder at what age seeing your parents naked becomes weird, at what age it does, in fact, become a big deal. My case is, I think, somewhat special and I'm interested in some feedback on this.
As a stay-at-home dad, I'm with Emmeline all the time. Somedays I'm hustling out of the house as fast as possible. showering and getting dressed in front of her. Sometimes while we're out and about, I have no choice but to usher her into the bathroom stall with me while I go about my business — there's no way I'm going to leave her alone in some places in the city, even for a few short minutes. She's just not old enough for that, but at the same time, I'm beginning to wonder: Is she too old to see all of me?
The last thing I want to do is make the human body something she should be ashamed of. We're of the mind in our house that everyone has everything so it's no big thing. She still runs around naked like any other kid enjoying naked time. I never would have considered myself falling on the hippie parenting side of the equation, especially with an upbringing where the body was never discussed or seen, but it looks like that's where we are. But I also don't want to sear what she may come to consider awkward or even damaging images into her psyche. I recall a wonderful essay about growing older from one of my favorite writers, Haven Kimmel, and how one day her father said, more or less, that she wasn't allowed to curl up on his lap any more. To her as a child, it was an awkward, uncomprehending moment but to the older writer, it was recalled as a moment of lost innocence. After that, I was seriously concerned about covering or shielding myself but then, I know I must one day.
But at what age? And how? And what the hell do I tell her?
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out!. And there's really little to see.
Image via Vinicius Tupinamba/Shutterstock.