Two weeks ago I went on an adventure with my Daughter (4.5 years old) to the New Forest to join 6 other fathers on a fathers and daughters weekend. My daughter had been looking forward to this since she was 2.5 years old after my son and I went on a fathers and sons weekend.
Before we left I asked her to pack some clothes for the trip. After about 20 mins upstairs I went to look for her to find her placing every item of clothing neatly folded into her Trunki and my suitcase. I was taken aback to see her drawers empty of socks, pants, trousers, tops AND jumpers. I said calmly “Are you taking everything?” to which she replied “Yes daddy, I need to have all my nice things with me”. Now this was a surprise because in all the time I have been a parent she has pretty much worn only pyjama’s, has shared often with me her passionate dislike of socks and pants, and is often very difficult to get ready to go out anywhere. She certainly had never shown any sense that she loved the beautiful collection of clothes that I and others have got for her in the hope that one day she might wear them.
We arrived on time on the Friday and she immediately made friends with the other girl (8) that had arrived and showed off her collection of kids (cuddly toys) and clothes. They went off on adventures pretty much straight after that in the park next door to the cabin. Soon after the other fathers and daughters arrived and my daughter immediately introduced herself and started talking about her clothes and kids. The older girls who arrived all knew each other and initially connected to her in a way which I witnessed as a tension between a group of older girls and some younger ones. Within about 20 minutes I could see my daughter’s frustration at not being able to connect to the older ones through play and I mentioned to her that if something didn’t feel good to her that she should feel free to express herself and try and work it out. After that she disappeared off and within an hour, all the girls had come to some understanding and were playing together in a beautiful way which continued throughout the weekend.
The next two days were a complete honour for me as a father to witness. I was part of a weekend where girls were freely loved and encouraged and played with by their fathers, who were all supporting each other and enjoying a shared brotherhood which is sadly lacking in our modern society. We canoed together, climbed together, played night games, ate marshmellows, cooked shared meals and walked several miles over wild countryside to visit the local cider makers and café to eat cake, scones, chips and drink cider, hot chocolate and milkshakes. In all that time the girls were full of joy and off together in a free spirited way and I spent much time reflecting on how it is in our culture, girls, women, boys and men, get so caught up in social structures which don’t help them to feel good about who they are.
Following this weekend, last week, I ended up going to see my friend’s performance on “How my skin fits?” a poetry piece around relationships, men and self-esteem. I turned up as the show was about to start and walked into a room full of women. I was taken aback and slightly scared to find a place to sit as I was on my own and the only man in the room (apart from the sound engineer). Luckily I bumped into my friend who was performing and she immediately brought it up with everyone, we laughed and I felt welcomed. What happened next was a privilege to witness. I found a deeper understanding of the difference in the view of men and women on relationships and how our roles as fathers really has an impact on this. This was not a surprise so much as a deep appreciation and deeper understanding of what it would mean for me to be a father who was present and available to my daughter as she grows into a young woman.
Lastly, tonight, I went dancing for the first time in ages with another friend who facilitates elemental dancing and I was again the only man there! Feeling comfortable in myself as I was among some others I knew, it was less of shock and a larger question was raised for me. Where are the men? And I ask this because I notice something specific about my friends dance experience having attended before. I find it free, soft and deeply connecting to the earth and the elements. It is about deeply connecting with oneself, and is distinctly different from other similar things like 5 rhythms that I have been to which can often have a much more sexual nature.
In all of these experiences I see common threads of thoughts which centre around how we raise girls and boys to honour each other and see connection and intimacy as more than something about beauty, sexualisation, body image and traditional gender models. AND how do we allow them to be themselves and love clothes, dressing up, feeling good about themselves, enjoying their gender differences and exploring what it is like to be authentic to what is going on in the moment without seeing it as a lasting experience.
I’ll end with a great line delivered by my 4.5 year old daughter when I explained to a friend why I never shout at her or shame her for drawing on the walls in our her house but politely remind her that she needs to use paper or other art materials.
Me to my friend: “You know, she may just be a great artist one day and I don’t want her to feel that her creativity is being held back in anyway.”
My Daughter shouting from the top of the stairs: “Daddy I am not going to be an artist when I am older, I am going to be a police woman. How many times do I have to tell you!”
If you are interested in the weekends away as father and daughters/sons then check out Ben Gold www.just4parents.co.uk
If you are interested in being part of a deep exploration and experience of our roles as men and fathers in our culture then I with some fellow adventurers will be hosting a weekend retreat for fathers and children on September 30th, October 1st & 2nd 2016. Email me for further information.