Being a dad of girls often means coming face-to-face with your own latent biases. For me, I’m realizing just how biased I am in favor of athletics. I love sports and still play in a competitive baseball league; I think sports are a great way to have fun and challenge yourself. When I had daughters, I thought, “Great! It’s a post-Title IX world out there — my daughters will play whatever they want!”
But what if they don’t want to play sports? It never really occurred to me. Maybe they’d prefer basketball or soccer to baseball, but I’d be fine with that. Being my flesh and blood, they would love sports and competition as much as I do, no?
Well, not necessarily. And it’s not just because the culture still doesn’t encourage girls to be sporty the way it encourages boys (though that’s true, too). Kids are not clones of their parents, and they don’t always share the same interests. I can’t (and don’t want to) force them to love sports.
What I’ve come to realize (and this may be obvious to you wise readers, but it’s taken me awhile) is that being active is not the same as being sporty. My daughters are very active — they climb trees and ride bikes and go sledding and have tackle fights and swim like fish — but they are not necessarily sporty. Toss them a ball, and they won’t necessarily chase it. Ask what they want to do on a sunny afternoon, and they rarely will say, “Play soccer!”
Yes, I confess, I feel a twinge of disappointment when my girls would prefer to thrash around in a mud hole in the backyard rather than play catch with their old man. But there’s part of me that loves it, too. They are so much more creative with their time and they have a much broader spectrum of interests than I ever did as a kid. They love cooking and gardening, they enjoy hiking and boating, they can amuse themselves for hours without a gadget or a ball in sight.
The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe I’m lucky if my girls wind up pursuing other interests that don’t revolve around balls and competition. Maybe it’s a good thing that they won’t be pressured to specialize in a single sport or encouraged to sacrifice their family time to play on this travel team or in that tournament. Maybe our lives will be richer and more varied if they were to explore drama or music or the wilderness rather than focus on sports. Maybe they’ll teach their dad how to really live.