A generation ago, interpreting the world meant watching the evening news on television. But since — like most fourth graders — I wouldn’t be caught dead watching the Nightly News or World News Tonight, my view of the world remained confined to simpler pursuits; girls, becoming rich and famous one day and staying up late enough to watch my favorite TV show.
The future was distant and engorged with possibilities; being an adult wasn’t a thing yet.
Now, it’s a thing, and as a millennial father I realize it carries with it a ton of other interpretations and responsibilities that were impossible to imagine in 1992. In 2017, my children have more at their fingertips than I ever did. They can see and experience more through the internet than other forms of media I had available to me as a young boy.
It provides an added layer of difficulty to an already pretty impossible job; raising a caring, thoughtful, well-adjusted, compassionately decent human being. This all becomes exceptionally more complex when you add being Black, single and of the opposite sex of your offspring. So as a single Black father of twin girls with completely different personalities, how does one tackle boys, sex, racism, the current political climate, self-image, misogyny, cyber bullying, health and the transition from adolescence to womanhood?
Here is what I have learned so far in my journey through fatherhood.
The number one bit of advice I have developed and share openly with any parent I meet is to embrace the fact you don’t – and probably shouldn’t – know everything. Parenting is much like life in that it was not designed for one person to traverse through. It really does take a village. Seek out successful fathers and ask them their methods. Take what is useful, leave the rest. Use what works for you. Your journey is unique and not at the same time.
Listen To Understand, Not To Respond
As a man, it is easy to tune out your daughter(s) when they tell you something because it may not make sense to you. Train yourself not to do that. They are budding women, but they are also kids just like you were. Even if you have to fake it, refer to number one on this list to help you interpret what you hear so you can eventually communicate properly.
Explaining racism, sexism, classism or the political climate of this country is hard, but showing your daughters history can help give them context to the things they are experiencing.
Wing it but don’t wing it. Be thoughtful about the people/experiences you have around your daughter around. A woman you admire and respect should be in their lives as often as possible. There are conversations that they may have with that person that hold different meaning than if they had that conversation with you.
Talk your daughters about sex — or any topic — truthfully. Tell her about the opposite sex and intimate relationship. What people might say and also do so she can prepare herself to discern between genuine people/connections and selfishness/manipulation. Always inform her “pressure” does not exist to do anything. Boys are just as clueless. Nothing happens unless on your terms and in your own time (which is advise I would also give my son).
Share Yourself. Learn Her
You may love football. Teach it to your daughter. She will grow up loving it. And if she absolutely hates it, learn what she likes and share that with her. As a father of twins I have the best of both world. I have a diva and an athlete who love different things. I always share with them my interests and we meet somewhere in the middle. I remind myself to always allow them to be themselves.
Don’t be a drill sergeant (this encourages disobedience), but when you set rules, make sure you follow them as well. If you tell your daughter to be home by 11, make sure she knows 11:05pm will have consequences. You will be surprised how much self-policing will happen. This also works with keeping your word. The more you do what you say you are going to do the more security and gravity your words will have with her. She will also adjust herself accordingly (i.e. pull up her grade in geometry because you told her you will take her to the Beyoncé concert).
Be Vocal. Be Actionable
TELL YOUR DAUGHTER YOU LOVE HER AS OFTEN AS POSSIBLE. AND THEN SHOW HER. This will become the foundation of her self-image and eventually self-esteem. It will be the conduit to her knowing how to love herself and how she shows love to others.
Give Her Real Expectations
Every dad wants to spoil their little girls to a certain extent, but doing that will set certain expectations for her in her personal relationship, which may not be realistic. You don’t want her going through life expecting people to shower her with gifts. In the same breath, you also want her to know nice things so that someone can’t bribe their way into her life. This is a balance all dads struggle with. I usually try to rewards accomplishments with gifts. But constant gifts for no reason are a no-no.
Challenge yourself to be a better man. Your little girl will help you and become a better woman for it.
- Khalid Sumner is a screenwriter from Brooklyn currently navigating the development of 2 amazing twin girls.