One day an email popped up in my inbox — all the parents get photos of their kids throughout the day: a blurry crawling pic here, a funny naptime shot there — but this one showed my daughter and this little Lothario holding hands. Holding hands!
The jokes were almost too easy. "Time for me and him to have a little talk," and "He better keep those hands to himself!"
As a progressive dad, I'm on board with the whole "Newsflash, it's 2016! Women are making their own decisions about their own bodies. And polishing your shotgun on the front porch when her prom date pulls up is, um, problematic" thing.
That's why it's so easy to make those kinds of jokes. In fact, the "overprotective dad" has been subject to a lot of ridicule lately.
But there I was looking at that photo, and for the first time, I felt "it" — a little twinge of terror. That desire to shelter and protect my daughter and not let anyone with remotely suspect intentions near her ever, ever, ever.
Which left me wondering: Does being a progressive dad mean I'm not allowed to be protective of my daughter anymore?
That I have to somehow pretend she won't face unique dangers and challenges that boys her age probably never will? That I have to treat her exactly the same way I would if she were my son, instead?
I don't think it does.
First, let me just say: When it comes to rape culture, our main goal should be, you know, fixing it. Not sheltering women.
We need to teach men to understand and respect consent. We need to stop objectifying and reducing women to their sexuality. And as men, we need to set a better example for the next generation.
I'm going to do my damnedest to work toward those goals.
But I'm also reserving the right to play the role of protective dad. Here's why:
1. It's not always about ownership.
I get where this concern comes from, I really do. In a world of purity balls and "virginity certificates," the dad-daughter relationship has definitely crossed the line from protective to creepy way too many times in our culture.
But personally, I can't relate to that notion at all right now. I'm still wiping poop off of my daughter's butt multiple times a day. Ownership over her sexuality isn't exactly at the top of my mind.
Wanting to protect doesn't have to be about control. It doesn't have to be about sex. For me, it's just about trying to make sure my daughter is safe, healthy, and happy.
And it turns out, there are plenty of good reasons for us to be as protective as we are.
2. Because the world is more dangerous for women than it is for men. That's a fact.
This is just the sad, awful truth.
About 1 in 5 women, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime, and 1 in 20 will face other kinds of sexual violence.
According to RAINN, almost half of those women will be under 18 when it happens.
And finally, 4 out of 5 assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.
When I see stats like these, I realize there's a pretty good chance that someone in my daughter's life will try to hurt her one day, probably while she's still living in our home. I'll probably have met this person. I'll probably have shook their hand.
That thought absolutely terrifies me.
Artist Mike Dawson has a simple approach when it comes to this stuff: "I don't make the rules. You don't make the rules. She makes the rules. Her body, her rules."
I love the sound of that. But a lot of men and boys out there aren't playing by the rules. And they're getting away with it.
That makes me mad. It makes me afraid. I feel like I have to do something about it.
The biggest part of that is raising her to be strong, to make good decisions, to be a good judge of character, and most importantly, to know that it's not her fault if someone crosses the line.
But it might also mean giving a firm handshake and a sideways glance to her dates. It might mean carrying a gruff standoffishness or a thick veil of skepticism.
OK, so I'm not going to be "polishing my shotgun" when her prom date shows up. But being kind of a jerk until that person earns my trust?Totally possible.
3. It's coming from a place of love.
Ultimately, what I'm saying is that us dads — all parents, really — are just out here doing our best.
Raising kids is hard. Good lord, is it ever hard. My wife and I are not sleeping well. We're usually covered in spit up, poop, pee, or all three. And we haven't even entered the wonderful world of bullies, behavior issues, puberty, and whatever else lies ahead.
Right now, it's really hard to think about the long term. Right now, we just want to do what we can to keep her safe.
Sometimes we'll probably do too much. Other times we might not do enough. But we've got to try.
I know there's a right and wrong way to be protective.
Not trusting or allowing our daughter to make her own decisions would be wrong. But not letting her walk home by herself at night, while it might feel unfair, might just be the kind of exception that makes a difference.
Threatening another person, even a smarmy teenage boy, with bodily harm, is never OK. But showing them that I'm involved in my daughter's life, actively concerned about her well-being, and making it clear that I'm not going to put up with her being mistreated? Absolutely.
I'm not saying I know exactly where that line is, but I'm going to try to figure it out.
In the meantime, I guess I can handle occasionally being hated by my daughter when she thinks I'm being an overbearing pain in the ass. But if anything ever happened to her because I trusted the world around her too much?
I'd never forgive myself.
Oh, and as for that boy in day care?
We're going to have to have a few words. You know, as soon as he learns to talk.