Somehow, I always knew my first child would be a girl. As much as I wanted my little girl to have an older brother to look after her, I knew in my heart my firstborn would be a female. Maybe that is attributed to fatherly instincts. No matter what it was, I knew what would be. And in some way, I suppose my life experiences and circumstances prepared me for just that.
Several years ago on his album ‘Life is Good’, Nasir Jones who is more commonly known by his stage name 'Nas' released a song entitled 'Daughters'. Having a daughter of my own, the title alone immediately grabbed my intention. The first time I listened to the track I thought, "This is so appropriate", simply because I could relate to his experiences from my past and also the things I was currently experiencing with my daughter.
My daughter was born in the year 2000 when I was 23 years old. In fact, it was a month and a half before my 24th birthday. You would think being a young single man at that time I would have gone into panic mode. But instead of running around like a headless chicken and asking what the hell I was going to do, I wholeheartedly accepted this responsibility I brought on myself and remembered the promise I made myself and my unborn children when I was still a child; to be there for them, do for them, and give them the father I never had.
That promise also led me to make a decision I thought was the right thing, but in hindsight was probably hasty. My heart was in the right place when I asked her mother to marry me. We got married and tried to make it work for almost five years. But when something isn't meant to be, it just isn't. After the relationship dissolved and the disorder arose, something my mother said to me after my daughter was born began to replay in my head repeatedly like a scratched CD.
"Just because you asked for forgiveness or tried to make it right doesn't mean the problems go away. You have to live with the consequences of your decision for however long they last."
The truth behind those words manifested in so many ways over these last 18 years. But one thing I can honestly say about myself is that I am resilient and I know how to fight through my circumstances.
The battle that once seemed to be between myself and my daughter's mother soon shifted and became the battle between my daughter and I. Until the age of 10 or 11, I was my daughter's best friend. I stood by my structure and rules, but I was also the fun parent who did everything a girl could want her daddy to do. Yes, even play with Barbie dolls and braid hair. Somewhere between 11 and 12, a change began to take place. I eventually became the outcast who was begging my little girl for the attention I thought she was obligated to give me. I spent years begging and pleading for answered and returned phone calls when we were apart. I asked countless times why I was being treated as an option as opposed to a necessity.
Then one day in church, my pastor said the words that began to put this ordeal in perspective. He said, "Fellas, right now she's ten and she's your best friend. But somewhere around age 13, they go away and you're left wondering 'Where'd my little girl go?'. I got news for you. They usually come back....around 21."
I think my face lit up and dropped all in the same moment. It made sense for the moment, but the issues only increased. As she grew, so did the gap between us. Friends came into the picture and then the ever-dreaded BOYS.
I started talking to my daughter about the opposite sex probably when she was about eight. As she got older, the conversations became more in depth and I was very transparent without being overly graphic. So you would think by the time she started to deal with them all those words would come to the forefront. Not! I have worked with teens for 19 years now and one thing I know is at the core level, they are all wired pretty much the same way. So my daughter is no exception. The boys have arrived and tried to take over, but I am still dealing with it as any father should. To her credit, I will say she has shown me that some of my words are resonating somewhere in her mind. But as a father, there are still some things that just do not work for me.
In 'Daughters' Nas says, "One day she’s ya little princess, next day she talking boy business. What is this? They say the coolest playas and foulest heart breakers in the world, God gets us back…He makes us have precious little girls." How true is that? Everything I used to be or was not as a guy, I am now trying to protect my daughter from. And I know she hears me, but she does not always listen. This is where raising a girl becomes most difficult. You start to contemplate the 'what ifs'. As a parent and more so a father, you have to push, but you cannot push too hard because you will push them in the very direction you don't want them to go. So you have to find a balance. I have found that balance by being an open book. And sometimes I have to take off my 'dad' hat and put on my best friend cap. Of course her face screws up when I tell her what I'm doing, but hey, I'm a dad. I do what I have to do to get my point across.
In the last verse, Nas almost reads my mind when he says, "It ain’t easy to raise a girl as a single man. Nah, the way mothers feel for they sons, is how fathers feel for their daughters. When he date, he straight, chip off his own papa. When she date, we wait behind the door with the sawed off. Cuz we think no one is good enough for our daughters." Truth! Raising girls is no easy task. Raising a girl as a single man is even harder because in many cases you cannot be there 24/7 to watch all of her moves and the moves of boys. And right now, there isn’t a young man good enough for her. The key is to make your presence felt even when you are not around. She’s now a freshman in college and that opens a whole new chapter with new experiences and new threats. So I still call often, ask questions, and yes I even get boys numbers. Because just like he's in her ear, I'm in his. You might not see me everyday, but I'm still present.
If you are a dad or know a dad who's raising a girl, I encourage you to listen to that song. Beyond that, be present. No matter how far you are physically, your presence should be known and felt to her and those around her. You cannot protect your girl from everyone and everything but you can teach her how to handle situations as they unfold. Part of that comes with your willingness to be present.
Rahsaan is a father, husband, mentor, writer and PhD candidate completing his dissertation on the experiences of African American males who have participated in fatherhood programs and how they have influenced their children as a result.