On April 27, 2002 we became parents for the first time. My precious daughter, Jaala, entered the world at 2:32 PM that spring day. I will never forget standing in the nursery, holding her for the first time, feeding her for the first time, changing her diaper for the first time, and looking into her eyes the moment she opened them for the first time.
I was in love. Any apprehensions I had about fatherhood melted like snow on a warm winter day. As I studied her every movement, drew close when she yawned just to capture her precious baby’s breath, I dreamed of her entire life.
I saw her in school, working hard to be the best student she could be. I envisioned her playing a sport, acting in a musical, or joining the debate team. I closed my eyes tighter and could see her entering the work force — strong, confident, and courageous. I even dreamed of the day we stood back and marveled at what our baby girl had become — whatever she dreamed of becoming, or doing. Because the world, as we saw it then and see it now, is filled with wide-open opportunity, whether you’re male, female, white, black, hispanic, asian, gay, straight, faith-based, or non-faith-based.
Never in a billion years did I envision my daughter marginalized, side-lined, lower on the ladder, or forced to settle for less because of her gender, or race. In fact, if you asked me back then, and even today 14 years later, I would tell you I’d fight to the death to defend her right to freedom, equal rights, and fair treatment. Why? Because, as a human being, she deserves it.
That’s why I nearly stood up from my desk yesterday and applauded President Barack Obama’s recent Glamour article, “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like.”
As I read his words, “We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs,” my heart jumped, and tears filled my eyes.
I may not have always agreed with him on politics, but this? Oh this, I could get behind. As a feminist dad and husband, I believe to the core of my being that my wife and daughters are equal to me and every other man on this planet. I’ve often said, I never want to look behind me and see my wife or daughters following me. I want to look beside me and see them standing next to me, in equality, as fellow human beings! Plus, as husband to my wife who is strong, beautiful, and a leader, and dad to my four daughters who are strong, beautiful, and also leaders, I’m super-sensitive to anything feminist-related. I couldn’t stop reading his words. And I couldn’t stop nodding in agreement!
I too am now “living above the store,” as he states it, in reference to becoming the president and living and working in the same building. After 17 years working outside of my home, I’m now a full-time dad and writer, working within our home, while my wife works in the city. I too have received a precious gift. For many years, as I spent lots of time away from home, I had to work hard to be the kind of husband and father I wanted to be, just like Obama did when he was a State and U.S. Senator, being gone from home for hours, even days, at a time. The gift of being at home, for me, is the same — I’ve had the pleasure of watching my young daughters grow into strong, confident, kind-hearted, and vocal young women. They are becoming the leaders they were meant to be.
But, like Obama says, I also see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues and stigmas that culture feeds women. I understand the pressure my daughters, and my wife, are under every day. I watch my 15-year-old daughter look at herself three or four times in the mirror before leaving the house, just to make sure she looks the “right” way — and by “right,” I mean the way this culture tells her she ought to look. I see my wife worry about whether or not she can measure up in the marketplace. Whether her skills are up to par, or her talents are good enough. My heart becomes heavy because deep from within me, I believe my wife and daughters are beautiful, talented, and equal to any other human being, male or female.
These words from our President are pure gold:
“We need to keep changing the attitude that values being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace — unless you’re a woman. Then you’re being too bossy, and suddenly the very qualities you thought were necessary for success end up holding you back.”
Never should the women who live in my home be afraid to be who they are. I believe my wife is a leader, both in our home, and in her workplace. Never should she be treated as anything less than that. And, never, ever, ever, should she, or my daughters, be given less of an opportunity, salary, position, or responsibility because they are female.
That’s why, during the Superbowl in 2015, when Always aired the #LikeAGirl commercial, I was in tears. The tears also flowed this year when I watched Disney’s Dream Big Princess campaign. I’m not ashamed in the least to admit that I balled like a baby during both. Why? Because they’re both right. Our girls should be proud to be who they are. They should be free to dream big. And we should do everything in our power to make sure they can!
Mr. Obama, you are right:
“It’s absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too. And as spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard to be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
For our daughters … for our mothers … for the world … for the future!