Tara Wood, mom of seven, was surprised by her husband’s joyous response to their son twirling in a princess gown. He let the boy be himself, because isn’t that what parenting is all about?
I wasn’t sure what kind of father my husband would be. I knew he’d love and protect our children, but there’s no telling how anyone will parent until they’re a parent. I thought he’d be supportive and patient and kind and he is; he’s all of those things. It was the unpredictability of parenthood and how he’d react to it that gave me pause.
My man isn’t much for change. He sees no value in checking out the new Indian restaurant or wearing underwear from anywhere other than The Gap. He’s satisfied with his current group of friends. He changes course only when something isn’t working, but never just to shake things up. He likes structure and schedules. He is stoic. He’s nice but, not chatty. He, much like toddlers, likes to know what to expect and to be given advance knowledge if plans get wonky.
He’s never been the dad who reads bedtime stories or suggests an impromptu trip to the zoo. He doesn’t braid hair or play board games. Children’s museums make him want to die. There have been no hunting, fishing, or camping trips.
That is not to say that he’s distant. He’s always happy to go to movies, parks, and bookstores. He is generous with hugs and kisses. He wipes tears and fetches robot Band-Aids. He wrestles and chases and tickles. He hides behind corners to scare the shit out of our brood and takes it like a champ when they exact their revenge. He’s taught all of our kids how to throw a punch and shrug off an insult. He expects them to be good and to do good.
It’s important to him that they all take jiu jitsu and kickboxing for at least one year. He wants them to understand self-discipline, to know and value their mental and physical strength. He wants them to have a backbone and to never be a doormat. He encourages our girls to be strong, vocal, and resilient. He teaches our boys that it’s okay to cry and talk about being hurt or sad or lonely. He pushes them and is sometimes a pushover. He is a good balance between tough and tender.
Still, I was curious, almost nervous, how he’d react when he walked into our living room to see our five-year-old son, Ronan, wearing his younger sister’s dress up princess gown. It was the week of Halloween and for her preschool’s costume party, Norah chose to wear Princess Anna’s coronation gown. Ronan, recognizing that the Elsa gown was available, asked me to help him put it on. After forcing his giant head through the neck opening, he trotted off to find a full length mirror. I watched as he smiled at himself, pranced a bit, and then spun in circles to make the tulle skirt catch the wind.
I didn’t think much of his pageantry. My husband, though, I thought he might scoff. Out of seven kids, we have only two boys. While gender roles have never been a topic of conversation in our home, I assumed the father of our children would object to his youngest son in a pale blue gown, even with his dinosaur boxer briefs peeking out from below.
His reaction? “Get your phone! You’ve got to get a picture of him! Look how cute he is!” That’s what he said. Followed by “Hey buddy, you look great! Let me see you spin!” And then “Do you want bacon or sausage for breakfast?” That was it.
He didn’t jeer or roll his eyes. He just let our boy be. He just let our beautiful boy be a kid. No judgment. No disappointment. Only delight. And, I was disappointed in myself for anticipating a negative reaction.
It never occurred to me to notice before, but now I see that he’s found an elusive equilibrium between steadfastness and tolerance. He reminds them not to tuck their thumb into their fist when they throw a punch and offers them solace should the world pummel them. He wants them to be true to themselves and lets them know that won’t always be easy but will always be worth it. To be tenacious but not inimical.
When they are faced with, what feels to them a monumental challenge, he plants himself firmly and quietly in their corner, nudging them forward without doing their work. Should they become overwhelmed, he says things like “I can tell this is tough for you but push through. I believe in you and you’re almost there and you’re going to be so proud of yourself!”
When our boys are pained, he doesn’t tell them to “man up.” He asks them to talk about it, to cry if they want to, to use their limited kid vocabulary to express what’s troubling them so he can help them navigate new and confusing emotions that they don’t quite understand.
We never know what kind of parents we’ll be until we’re parents. After all these years, all these kids, I thought I had my husband pegged. A princess gown changed all that.
Photo Credit: Getty Images