Friday, March 20, 2009
Dads, Daughters and Words
Our family went hiking at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge over Spring Break. With temperatures in the high 80s and three well rested kiddos, we had a fantastic time. I learned something about each of my children. Abby loves to climb and is so busy in her head that she doesn't notice any of the dangers. This should not surprise me as she has always been single minded.
Bronwyn did not, did not, did not like the heights and needed lots of encouragement but she did it and she's proud of herself. As are we.
Elliot is a maniac on the rocks. That boy jumped from rock to rock like a billy goat. He was sure-footed and confident and fast. He said "cherries," if he got nervous and then promptly returned to jumping like a super hero through the saddle of rocks between two mountains.
On our second day we hiked a short distance to the forty foot hole so we could watch them jump into the very cold water in the ravine. There they collected snails and started a snail zoo, tried splashing, ate apples and enjoyed themselves to the fullest.
Another family hiked to the same location, a dad and his son and daughter. The son was about 13 and also confident, maybe overly so. He made me start a few times as I watched him clamber down the side of the rocky gulch rather too quickly. I was sure we were going to be calling EMS. I wondered briefly how that would be possible. The daughter stayed behind to snap photos of his exploits as he descended and ascended. Then she made it down. Dad came along behind slowly and without confidence. He made me nervous too, for other reasons.
When we were all standing at the bottom, watching the kids, he told us his son usually gets hurt when they hike. (Big suprise.) He said his knees are bad so he, "hikes like a girl." Instant hackles.
I had to ask him what he meant by that. He said that meant he hiked like me. He could only hope! At least I could do it upright. I dislike that metaphor as it is usually used as an insult. Hiking, or running, or throwing like a girl usually means one sucks at it. I was offended but he had another little nugget of misogyny for us.
This dad then said, "We bring his sister along so she can take pictures."
Oh, right, because clearly the daughter can't climb as well or be smart enough to observe her surroundings or enjoy herself. She was an afterthought. I politely walked away while hubby talked to him some more about where to go. I was furious.
Now, in all likelihood, he didn't really mean what he said. He meant his knees are bad so he's not as able as he used to be. He meant, his son enjoys this more than his daughter. My husband and I talked about this for a while. It got me thinking about how we talk to our girls.
But more it made me wonder about that little girl. She was probably 12 and heard her dad use her as a prop, a cast off, an afterthought. I wondered what she heard when he said that. Did she hear, "She is good at taking pictures." or did she hear, "He doesn't really want me here."
Of course, I don't know but it was a reminder that our words matter and our words have a life of their own once they wisp from our lips.