At some point it happened, and I don't know exactly when. Maybe it was in the middle of the night during a bottle feeding when their tiny hands barely wrapped around my index finger. Maybe it was when they put on that first little dress with that first pair of Mary Janes. Maybe it was when I twirled them around the room in my arms dancing the tango—dad style. All I know is that at some point, it happened; I changed. First with one daughter and then another. I started to change like the Velveteen Rabbit I had read them when they were little.
Sure, I still like beer, football and "Storage Wars." But I was taken to school in a big way. There was dad's first mani-pedi because the girls wanted me to do it. There was dad's first My Little Pony shirt because the girls dared me to wear it. There were princess parties, failed ponytail attempts, trips to the American Girl store... and doll after doll after doll. But it hasn't been all rainbows and unicorns. It has meant addressing questions like:
- "Daddy, why don't any girls play for the Dodgers?"
- "Daddy, why are they called cave MEN and not cave people?"
- "Daddy, why does every girl love pink? Why can't my favorite color be aqua?"
Being a dad to daughters has made me really see the gender bias that exists in the world. Being a dad to daughters has made me see the stereotypes that stare back at us on every magazine cover. Being a dad to daughters has opened my eyes—in the same way a child stares at what the world has to offer for the very first time.
In a recent Yahoo Parenting article, psychotherapist Bethany Marshall said dads of daughters experience a transformation because the gender differences between dads and their girls push dads right out of their comfort zone. It's so true. In my case, it pushed me right out of my zone and into theirs.
When our oldest daughter was just starting elementary school, she got all dressed up for school one day. It was just a regular school day. And we asked her why she was getting all dressed up. And she told us that day was the day their classmate Edward would pick the prettiest girl. Apparently, it was a game the boys had started. I wanted to give Edward a super atomic wedgie. It was the first of many conversations that would take place—that still take place—about self esteem, confidence, true beauty and potential. I make an effort to take them to see the LA Sparks, the women's professional basketball team in Los Angeles. I make an effort to point out women in positions of power like the CEO of Yahoo or the head of Pepsi. I make an effort to highlight their own mom to them and how much she does as an educator, mother and wife. They need to know they're carrying the torch for women everywhere and blazing their own trail, and nothing should stop them. And yet they may never know, they are the ones who taught me just how important it is.
I told my 10 year old I was writing this piece on how daughters change dads. She asked me matter-of-factly, "Well, how do we?" And I thought about it for a second and told her, "I guess most important of all, I want to make sure you know that you can do anything a boy can do...anything." She looked at me and said simply, "I know."
Just like that, the conversation was over, and I felt really good.
Pete Wilgoren is a TV journalist by day and a doting dad the rest of the time. He has won numerous Emmy awards for his work in TV news and has recently been featured in the book "Dads Behaving Dadly 2." You can find him on his Dadmission blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.