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January 16, 2008

Facing Reality With Humor

I think I just fell in love with this man:

Just 18 months ago, I was your average bachelor dude, bumbling into my late thirties with a girlfriend stashed across the country. As such, I spent a lot of time strolling down less-than-wholesome cultural avenues. To be specific, I wasted approximately a week and a half (if you add up all the 20-minute segments) trolling the Internet for a free version of the Paris Hilton sex video. My friend Karl had told me it was hilarious, that she actually answers her cell phone in the midst of the action. Then there was the Britney saga. And the Lindsay saga. And whatever stray cleavage those might offer.

But in 2006, a number of things happened very quickly. I realized I was turning 40. My girlfriend announced that she would be staying across the country if I didn’t propose to her. I proposed to her. A week later, she called to say she was pregnant. In the space of six months, we eloped, bought a house, moved in together, and welcomed the arrival of Josephine.

What did this radical paradigm shift mean for me? It meant that I began visiting the mall. The mall is a terrifying place for a new dad, because it offers a concentrated dose of all the cultural messages aimed at your daughter. It was at the mall that I first encountered a pair of moppets playing with a Bratz doll. How cute, I thought. Until I saw the doll’s ensemble: a miniskirt and a tight T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase So Many Boys, So Little Time. Next, I passed by Club Libby Lu, where prepubescent clients get makeovers and learn a sexy dance while a soundtrack offers helpful tips such as “Wet your lips and smile to the camera.” Then the girls select miniature stuffed dogs to carry around in a faux-couture carrier, just like, well, you know who.

The adult stores were no better. Victoria’s Secret had a section for young women that featured bras and panties small enough to fit a sizable toddler. Yes, it’s Baby’s First Thong.

See, this is what happens when you have a daughter. You start looking at the world around her and you start realizing how much of that world seems determined to turn her into a world-famous media slut. Then you start looking at the world-famous media sluts themselves—at least I do—and for the first time in your life, it occurs to you: Hey, that’s someone’s daughter! I wonder how her dad feels about that picture in which her boobs are hanging out for the world to see? And I wonder if her dad’s behavior in some way contributed to this boob hanging?

Here’s where things become complicated. Because despite being a dad and having all these noble dad concerns about my daughter and all the daughters of the world, I still gaze at media sluts on occasion.

What I’ve come to realize is that there are really two people inside me: the Dude Self and the Dad Self. The Dude Self has an evolutionary mandate. Namely, to get his DNA into all available fertile females. This is how I explain the compulsion toward media sluts, who, after all, sow the fantasy that women exist only for the carnal pleasure of men.

But then there’s the Dad Self. The Dad Self has to worry about the survival of his wife and offspring. It might be said that his genetic material is heavily mortgaged. He regards women differently, especially if he has a daughter. Now he must think about the kind of world in which he’d like her to grow up, and especially how he’d like other males to treat her, which is to say not as a sexual chew toy, but with kindness and respect.

It’s here that my old Dude Self and my brand-new Dad Self come to blows. Because as much as I want to check out Paris and Lindsay, I know I’m harming my daughter by doing so. For one thing, I’m sending her a very clear message: Daddy loves sluts. Be a slut and Daddy will love you. And if you don’t believe that a 1-year-old picks up on messages, you’ve never seen my daughter in action. She is intensely focused on everything in her environment, especially whatever I happen to be looking at.

But even if I ogled Paris in private, I would still be contributing to the Culture of Paris, helping to shape a world in which young women win adulation for making porn videos and getting arrested, rather than for, say, curing cancer or brokering peace in the Middle East or being a mom. If we all stopped consuming celebrity scandals, they would cease to exist. If a media slut goes to jail and no one’s there to film the perp walk, does it really matter?

So this is what I’ve been working on: not pretending I’m deaf to all those salacious sirens, but curbing my own prurience on behalf of my daughter. As much as I can, I’m sending her the message that happiness comes from inside. Will this work? My Dad Self certainly hopes so. But he knows that we live in the age of the Dude Self. My trip to the mall wasn’t an anomaly. It’s good business to make little girls believe they can buy love in material form. If that means pushing sex on 6-year-olds, so be it.

We newbie dads would be fools not to worry about the way this is trending. What is the cultural landscape going to look like in a dozen years, when my little girl is heading into adolescence? Will there be packs of roving slut enforcers? Triple-X slumber parties? Can you see why a concerned father—even a socially liberal fellow like myself—might be tempted to declare martial law on his 1-year-old?

I want Josephine to grow up in a world where her ambitions will be about what she wants, not what the panting men of the world want from her. My daughter is not a commodity. Her heart can be broken. Her spirit can be wounded. And there is no accessory that can rescue her from these dangers.

Which brings me to rule number five, the only one I plan to enforce: Josephine can do anything she likes with her life, so long as she asks herself first: Is this behavior worthy of the love I deserve? If she flouts this rule, the failure will have been her parents’, not hers.

I'm not sure it's that simple. Steve's daughter, when she grows up, will be responsible for her own choices.

What I am certain of is that every time my determinedly rose-colored view of the universe starts looking dingy, something comes along to brighten it up again.

The world, as always, continues to amuse and delight.

Posted by Cassandra at January 16, 2008 08:48 AM

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The age old question: How do you give liberal a conscience?

Give him a daughter.

Obviously, there are exceptions, but there is much truth in this joke.

Posted by: Mark at January 16, 2008 04:53 PM

I feel for Steve when said daughter, after having reached full-blown, hard-headed toddlerhood, stages her own mini-protests of the meal du jour by *chipmunking* her food in her cheek. I especially feel for Dad Steve when he has to tell his little princess, "Swallow it." while Dude Steve snickers evilly in his head.

Posted by: Sly2017 at January 16, 2008 04:54 PM

The story was goin' along just fine until he said the kid was named Josephine.

Posted by: MaryAnn at January 16, 2008 06:17 PM

Payback is a bitch.

*whistles off*

Posted by: Cricket at January 16, 2008 07:32 PM

I especially feel for Dad Steve when he has to tell his little princess, "Swallow it." while Dude Steve snickers evilly in his head.


You know, I have always thought it was funny that we didn't have a daughter. The thing is though, the Unit (though the old testosterone meter seems still to be on 'full') has always been incredibly circumspect. He is a gentleman, and he has always treated me with courtesy and respect.

It is one of the things I love most about him. It's a shame in a way, because he'd have been a really good Dad for a young woman. But when I look at the way our sons treat their wives, I feel very proud because I know a boy absorbs that from the way he sees his mother treated at home and I have never had any complaints in that regard.

The story was goin' along just fine until he said the kid was named Josephine.

Heh. I thought the same thing, MaryAnn.

Posted by: Cass at January 16, 2008 07:40 PM

As Mark says, there is much truth in that witticism.

Although I do not think I've ever been what one could call a liberal, nothing, and I'll repeat, nothing ever registered on the gravitas meter quite like that moment when I first held my seconds-old new born daughter in my arms. At which time she immediately stopped crying... She had me from hello... =8-)

I would suspect that most new fathers reassess at that moment just as I did and as dude/dad says. The rest is just an ongoing commitment to be as good a dad as possible as opposed to being a sportin' dude. And I'll say again, don't blink, for many reasons.

In the context of this topic, I have to confess that I no longer understanding popular culture, if I ever did. For instance, where are the parents of the current crop of young people we see and hear of so frequently in the news? If one were to believe that the whole of our nation's young people are comprised of the Paris, Brittney and those of the Hollywood ilk, one would have to assume the parents are AWOL.

"But when I look at the way our sons treat their wives, I feel very proud because I know a boy absorbs that from the way he sees his mother treated at home and I have never had any complaints in that regard."
Which is why I suspect that those individuals we see and hear of in the news are not the rule. We only see the exceptions, the wild and crazy socialites, latter day troubadours, and jesters.

If I am wrong and we are a culture of people who have advanced to the point of never wanting to grow up, then I am afraid that we are in for a heck of a ride over then next few decades.

Posted by: bthun at January 16, 2008 08:17 PM

The way people (male or female) turn out is largely due their upbringing. My daughter is an adult now, reponsible (as Cassandra pointed out) for her own choices. I can only hope that she makes the right ones. Thus far, I've had no reason to think that she doesn't...

Posted by: camojack at January 17, 2008 01:16 AM

Personally, as someone who looking to try to have children in the foreseeable future, I worry more about the 'Parents Curse': May you have children that act just like you did.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 17, 2008 11:00 AM

That seems to be the realization that just hit this gentleman right smack in the middle of the forehead: that he would not want his daughter to engage in the activities he has been endorsing for most of his adult life, and if unless he means to say to her "Do as I say, not as I do", something has to give.

As I have remarked to childless friends on more than one occasion, a son or daughter is a very unsparing mirror in which you see your own life and values reflected back.

Posted by: Cass at January 17, 2008 11:06 AM

Well, it's not so much that I'm afraid they'll become the adult I am as much as I'm afraid they'll be the child I was.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 17, 2008 11:16 AM

Cass, Bookworm is facing a similar situation here.


Posted by: Ymarsakar at January 21, 2008 09:41 PM

Thanks, Ymar :) took me a while.

Posted by: Cass at January 22, 2008 07:37 PM