For a guy facing the biggest milestone of his life, the 20 weeks preceding my wife's third ultrasound appointment felt pretty, well, calm. My only concerns until then had been keeping her happy, healthy and well-fed, while she bravely stared down the challenges — tiredness, nausea (so much nausea), headaches, hunger (so much hunger), anxiety, growing pains and general, all-encompassing discomfort — that had marked most of her first two trimesters.
I'd already seen the first ultrasound of our then-unsexed baby, aged only a teeny-weeny 12 weeks. It was an indistinct image, not coming close to encompassing the enormity of the path that lay before us. We remember admitting to one another that, despite having concrete proof that this is really happening, even then hardly any of it felt real.
The man sliding the ultrasound wand across my wife's belly turned my attention away from my visibly nervous wife. "Do you want to know what it is?" We had already made that decision — yes, yes we would. I had no strong preference and couldn't wait for the news.
"It's a girl."
And just like that, my world was changed, and this pregnancy became realer than real. In the days that followed, I envisioned us reading graphic novels, hoped she'll show an interest in fashion and wondered which of my Polish or Italian specialties will become her go-to comfort food. I'm absolutely in love with having a little girl.
But at the same time, I was forced to address a lingering guilt that I've come to understand is fairly universal among dads-to-be in my situation.
Challenging the small voice in my head
I'm one of three brothers. Our closest male cousin was our best friend growing up. Being around boys is all I've ever known, save my mom. And despite the reality boiling down to a cosmic coin flip, society never exactly seemed to let up on its expectations that I, as a man, will one day become a father — of a boy.
Even though I hadn't officially taken a side (and was delighted to find out I'd be having a girl), let's face it: society says I was supposed to want a boy, and many men have a small part of them that can't help wonder what it'd be like.
Society's vision of parental bonding is often written in the language of father and son.
So you could forgive me if the thought bubbled up from time to time, like when I was idly thinking up names ("I like the sound of 'Felix.' It's a strong name."), or enjoying a beer ("I can't wait to buy him his first round."), or playing video games ("'God of War' sure is teaching me valuable boy-raising skills!"). The misadventures I had growing up suggested that raising a boy who'd go through the same things might be just a little easier than having a girl.
I felt guilty about harbouring even a small desire for a male kid, or a specific sex at all, when the values I live tell me our baby's sex doesn't change a thing.
Will I be the dad she needs — or wants?
That doesn't mean I'm not scared shitless. A particularly frightening aspect of having a girl is worrying whether I'll be a good father — not just in the sense of living up to my role as one half of a team that provides shelter, food and love, but whether or not I'll be able to truly bond with my kid.
Like its emphasis on raising boys, society's vision of parental bonding is often written in the language of father and son. Think all the cliched father-son moments that dominate film, commercials and magazines: teaching him to play catch, dispensing advice on dating, handing down antique watches burnished by the hands of the men they've been passed down to. We're told that father-son bonding is the stuff of sharing wisdom, gleaned from years of boyish antics and adult experience, turning boys into men. Above all, this bonding seems to be guaranteed.
Contrast those with father-daughter tropes, often negative stereotypes: the overprotective dad who relentlessly vets his daughter's boyfriends, the doormat dad who avoids real parenting by giving his "little princess" anything she wants, the overworked father who nobly sacrifices time with his baby girl in order to provide. The father's portrayed as either a hindrance or not much of a father to begin with.
Even for someone who hopes to be an engaged father, it's hard not to let assumptions like this unfairly reinforce the idea that I'll never truly relate with my daughter — instead of teaching, supporting and loving, that I'm doomed to impose, control and resent.
Then there's the very real question of lived experience: How can I support her without knowing firsthand what she'll be going through?
I'm not alone in this
There's at least one person who thinks my fears are unfounded. Every time my wife — one of three daughters — tells me I'll be a great dad, I gain an ounce of courage. And I know I can count on her to be my guiding light, letting me know what my daughter needs from her father, and when she needs Dad to step aside and let Mom take over. I'll watch, and listen, and do so I can learn from the lived experience I lack.
(As much as I want to be Super Dad.)
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I'm also building a support system of parents around me. Some are raising girls of their own, and all have helped give me the confidence to jump in with both feet. Their honesty and lack of judgment help me open up about my fears and the emotions I'm feeling. Stories about the sweet little things their daughters do to show how much they love them get me excited about fatherhood. Hearing out my self-doubts, their prevailing advice is generally: we've all been there, and it goes away the second you meet your little girl.
That's one thing I have no doubt about.
I can't wait
I might not know what to expect, whether or not to be afraid, how to be the best dad to a girl. But I'm determined to own this self-doubt, and not let it own me. I'll learn from my daughter every day. And if that means being challenged, being terrified, and being the best man I can possibly be despite it all — bring it on.
I'll love her more every day for it.
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