In our Daddy Issues series, a father of a young daughter seeks guidance, hoping to raise a strong woman. He looks to you, dear readers, for insight.
"OK now," she begins, sneering, "Let's box!"
We are on the bed. The pillows are on the floor, victims of a pillow fight. My daughter's hair is sweaty. She is out of breath. Her thumbs are tucked into her fists. One arm is raised way above her head. The other hovers around her hip. I think for a moment: If she brings those arms together, she will scissor me to death.
"Where'd you learn that boxing pose?" I ask.
And then she throws a jab aimed at my nose.
I block it easily, duck to my right and give her a jab of my own, much gentler, but still headed in the direction of her nose.
She raises an arm to block it. She mimics my duck. She throws a left and connects with my forearm.
"Ow!" she cries. "I'm supposed to hit your head, right? Let me hit your head!"
"I don't want to get in the head!"
She puts her hands on her hips. She cocks her head to the side.
"That's just boxing, Daddy," she explains, "You're supposed to let me hit you in the head."
I can't help it. My mind immediately flashes on Mike Tyson in the ring, completely put out. "Damn it, Evander. Just let me hit you in the head."
And so begins another lesson in a symposium of physical activity I have come to call the Spartan School for Little Girls.
In previous lessons, we've tackled How to Throw a Javelin, How to Shoot an Arrow, How to Throw a Wicked UFC Arm Bar, How to Pin Someone in Wrestling, How to Sword Fight and How to Sprint.
My daughter is incredibly physical. She loves all manner of sports and activity. Baseball is her favorite right now, followed by ballet and soccer and swimming. From the moment she wakes, she is a whirl of motion. And every now and then we'll be messing around, playing chase or tag or something, when she suddenly wants to turn it into a wrestling match. I used to wrestle in high school and was happy to show her a few moves, letting her pin me or making her work to stand up for a point.
I have no fear that she's going to become some uber-aggressive schoolyard meathead — I'd say most of our down time is spent reading or sewing or making up our own choreography to Jersey Boys songs. She's a sensitive soul; she cried when I yelled at the dog to get off our living room couch. And yet...she LOVES to engage in mock battles and sparring contests. It's good for the soul, I think, to master the use of your body, but I always feel I'm walking a fine line between teaching valuable lessons and going too far, something I remember well from my childhood.
I'm on the bed, showing her how to hold her arms and how to make a fist that won't break her thumbs, when I flash on another scene.
I'm young, in the family room, practicing something I can't get quite right. My own father approaches. There's a pool cue in his hand. The air is beery.
"Be a man," he slurs, and I'm suddenly doubled over, clutching myself.
I guess men don't care about perfecting Jazz Hands.
On the bed, I have to pause for a moment. Am I being too rough? I always wonder. And then: Would I think the same thing if she was a boy? And then: You know, I've got too much baggage for this shit, and I don't want that to get in the way of having fun with her; and she — and I — believe it's equally as fun to wrestle or race as it is to sing and dance. I'm at playgrounds and parks every day, and I see all too many times parents who invest so much energy into teaching their boys sports while letting their girls twirl or pick daisies on the sidelines. What's the harm in learning both?
And so the Spartan School for Little Girls continues. I try to teach her teach her the "right" way to perform these physical activities when she asks and sometimes when she doesn't. (Kids should know how to stand in the batter's box.) And I wonder if I'll always wonder just how much is too far.
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! He's guessing he wasn't the only high school wrestler to quietly hum "I'm going to wash that man right out of my hair" before matches.
Image by Lauri Apple.