Dear Dads: Here’s How to Talk to Girls

I grew up a feminist. I wasn’t raised in a family who spoke about the fact that women and men are equal over dinner; it just never occurred to me that they were not.

That is, until I was subtly told so.

My father is an amazing man. That statement is something that goes through my mind every single morning I wake up to the smell of his coffee, thankful that I have him in my life. I grew up in a home where my father cooked, cleaned, picked me up from school, got the groceries, and ran errands alongside my mother, all while working a long, disorganized schedule as a restaurant chef. It never occurred to me, or to anyone who knows my father for that matter, that someone as open-minded as him could be sexist.

I never dared to mention this anywhere else before because it feels like I’m betraying a wonderful man—one of the greatest, most hardworking fathers, if I may say so myself. However, I feel that I owe it to myself and every other daughter in this world to let fathers know how we actually feel when we hear things like “Men are superior drivers.” or “That seems like hard work, let your brother do it for you.” We feel as if we are not as powerful as we actually are. It might make us doubt ourselves. At one point we might even ask: “Are we truly equal to men?”

I remember when my father was teaching me how to drive at 16. I was having difficulties learning parallel parking, as many people do. As I hit the curb for the third time that day, my father said to me what he still mentions every now and then in the midst of his road rage: “This is the reason why women aren’t good drivers, they’re too afraid.” I was never afraid of driving until that moment, and I have never not been afraid since that day.

About three years ago, I bought a small, three-shelved bookcase from Walmart, and although I insisted on assembling the shelves on my own, my father made my younger brother assemble it, mentioning how I needed a “man” to help me out. To this day, I have a three shelved bookcase in my room with one raw side of wood facing out in full display.

One of my favorite quotes is by the beautiful and talented comedian, Sarah Silverman, in her HBO special We Are Miracles. She says: “Stop telling girls they can be anything they want when they grow up. I think it’s a mistake, not because they can’t, but because it would’ve never occurred to them they couldn’t.” I would have never thought that I was incapable of putting together an easy five-step bookcase on my own until I was I told otherwise. I would have never imagined that I should be responsible for keeping men from harassing me until I was told to not “advertise something that is not for sale.” Not in a million years would I have thought to myself that I could not be a professional football player until I was told that I would be more successful in sports like soccer or volleyball — or “Why not get into ballet?”

I grew up imagining I could do anything that any one of my brothers could do. Society decided to disagree with me and threw obstacles in my way. A person was at every corner telling me that I could not achieve all that I dream of because I was born the wrong gender. The truth is, I could have taken every single obstacle and turned them all into a stepping stone to get me where I wanted, if the one man in my life who I trusted more than anyone else believed in me. Instead, I hid from the world, I hid from the challenges, and brought up every excuse for not pushing the boundaries, because deep down inside, I began to believe I was not good enough.

I found feminism. I found idols and role models. I read their books and listened to what they had to say. I found the hidden strength inside myself, but all I can ever think of is what I could have done with that strength if I had found it years earlier. I do not want to blame my own shortcomings on my father. We are the pilots of our lives and we can go in whatever direction we wish to, but it is undeniable that words hurt, especially when those words come from the people you trust most.

To all fathers: You do a lot, most definitely more than what the media gives you credit for. You love, you care, you listen, you provide. Your daughters are lucky to have you, and you are lucky to have them, so please raise them to be the strongest they can. Your daughters look up to you, they wish to make you proud, so do not allow them to think that they will never be able to do so on their own. The words you say to them today, will follow them forever. Please make sure those words are not, “You can’t.”