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.
So my daughter is sitting on a horse in the living room. Well, no, I suppose she's standing. She's up in the stirrups, crouching forward, a whip in one hand and the other on the reins.
She's in full jockey regalia, the silks, the boots, the hat. And she's watching real horses on TV round the last corner and thunder into the home stretch of the Kentucky Derby.
"Go Rosie!" she shouts, "Go, go, go! It's time to turn on the juice!"
This is a thing she does. After listening to stories about Seabiscuit, Secretariat and Zenyatta trailing early and then coming from behind, she's come to believe that all of the best athletes have this innate, internal reserve of "juice" that will carry them onward to victory. They simply need to tap into it. I hear her sometimes on the soccer field, dashing after the ball while the words trail behind her, "Turning. On. The. Juice!"
So there go the horses on the television. They're crashing toward the wire. My daughter watches Rosie Napravnik, only the sixth woman to run in the Derby, try to find a hole for her horse, Pants on Fire. My daughter matches her whip stroke for whip stroke, grunt for grunt. In the last few hundred yards or so, the eventual winner, Animal Kingdom, angles toward another horse who in turn angles toward Pants on Fire and gives a little nudge. It's over, I think. That's it. The hole has closed. The other horses race on while Rosie and Pants on Fire fall behind.
"Turn it on, Rosie!" I hear, "You can do it!"
I look at my daughter, still standing on her pretend steed, still crouching forward, still whipping, and I can't help but think how awesome it is to have role models. When I was a kid, I adorned my walls with photos of Marty Hogan, a top racquetball player (I was a dork, OK?) and George Hincapie, a future cycling star. I dressed like them, recreated matches and races and tried my best to follow their lead. My daughter has a poster of Russell Baze, the winningest jockey of all time, in her room.
After the race, she asks how we could go about getting a "Rosie the Jockey" poster instead.
"Do you think?" she asks, "Do you think Russell would...mind?"
Right now, at 5, she wants to be a jockey. I've written about her newfound horse obsession before and have no illusions that she won't one day devote herself to baseball or lawyering or...whatever, but for now, the Kentucky Derby has suddenly become something akin to Christmas around here, and this year it was particularly special. Rosie the Jockey may have lost the race but there was indeed a victory to be had, as I imagined little girls like my own glued to the races, cheering for a new hero, a girl who can rise to the top in an incredibly dangerous sport. I hope we see her again soon as the Triple Crown races continue.
"And I hope," my daughter says, "She turns on the juice."
Mike Adamick writes at Cry It Out! He finally took the girl riding. And she LOVED it.
Image by Lauri Apple.