She starts out as your baby girl. Mom does her best to make her a little ballerina. Instead, she becomes a Tom Boy playing more with the boys than the girls. It is clear she's an athlete as she dominates other girls her age in various sports. You get home from work finding her waiting for you to play catch or pitch to her. She watches the ball games with you and becomes a fan of your favorite teams. She's the boy you never had and/or the daughter who saved you from dance recitals. And then one day it all begins to change.
Hot Tip #1 - Anything you say or do can and will be used against you forevermore.
So, You're New to This?
Since I have 3 daughters (28, 23 & 19) I've earned the right to speak freely as a man about this. To all the young fathers out there who've not experienced this before, I assure you with the utmost certainty that your daughter will eventually move to the Dark Side. Oh she'll retain her athleticism and drive to play competitive sports, still enjoy watching the ball games and throwing the ball around, but it will never be the same. It's nature's way of informing you that she's a young woman now with a whole lot more on her mind other than sports.
Body hair, growth spurts, weight gain, bras, skin, sweat, periods and dating are some of the things that she'll spend more time thinking about than practice, games or talking about your favorite team's recent performance. And with all of that come the mood swings. Those are especially frustrating for dads. They are often the result of a conversation or comment you made in which after the fact, you can replay in your mind repeatedly and still be unable to figure what the heck you said that set her off. It's maddening.
Hot Tip #2 - Keep your home (and car/truck) fully stocked with toilet paper, pads and tampons at all times.
During these years you'll notice her choosing to spend more time with her mother, grandmothers and all other females than you. For some girls this is a gradual shift, while other's seemingly change overnight. But, in your mind you might believe she's just being stubborn or going through a phase. There's no sugar-coating it Dad: You're in denial. While at times it may seem that the women in your life have joined forces against you (The Dark Side mentioned above), there is hope.
Ahhh. Hard to see the Dark Side is, Yoda said.
The Road Will be Bumpy
Acceptance: You can begin by accepting the fact that things are going to be different from here on out. You will be accused of things in which you cannot defend yourself such as, "Mom. Dad just called me fat." You will be expected to vastly improve your ability to read minds like, "Um, I'm sorry. Did I ask for your feedback concerning my hitting?" Your inability to remain calm and show patience in the heat of the moment will be exploited like, "I don't feel good today and all Dad cares about is telling me I need to practice more." You'll learn that while you must frequently apologize even if you swear you're innocent, your motives will always be questioned, "Aw. Dad bought me ice cream and oreos. I guess he doesn't care that my face is totally broken out right now."
Hot Tip #3 - If you've failed on Tip #2, I've found that adding a case of beer, popcorn & ice cream to the conveyor belt on those late night trips to the store to purchase tampons great conversation pieces.
Building a Bridge: Once you've accepted your new reality you can begin learning ways to make up for your short-comings. Working on your listening skills is the first thing you need to do, while understanding she does not expect your input at any time. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you already know your parent-coaching days are numbered. Ending the lectures in the car on the way home and letting her coaches handle coaching will greatly assist you bridge construction. She'll let you know what she wants or needs, you just need to learn to recognize it. For example, "OMG Dairy Queen sounds so good right now," means that you are expected to know what her favorite treat is, go get it and bring it to her, but without fanfare or saying anything that might incriminate you.
Getting Over It: Now that you've built your bridge you can start getting over it. Simply put, you must know when you've got to make yourself scarce. This is a difficult skill to master as you cannot simply go into hiding. You must be within an ear shot away from, "Dad I need a water," or "Your daughter looks cold." You will slip up and she will hold you accountable. Think of those moments as times to work on your patience and listening skills. Remember not to take it personal. She still loves you. Go to your Happy Place if it helps.
There is no strength in numbers. Dads cannot join forces to combat the Dark Side. They can however form support groups, which you'll often see at tournaments beyond the outfield fences or someplace where they can speak freely. These are not only great places to vent and de-stress, but seem to be the natural progression we Dad's take in our Softball Journeys. As we deal with our daughters becoming their mother's daughters, I have personally found them to be extremely therapeutic and entertaining.
Hot Tip #4 - All kidding aside, your daughter will always be your daughter, but the days that she's your softball player will eventually end.