Welcome to Dad Village, Huffpost Canada’s series about all things fatherhood.
A quarter of new dads feel socially isolated, and supports for fathers tend to be lacking, even though this generation is more involved in parenting than ever before. That’s why it’s so important to connect! We hope this series will get dads talking: to each other, to their partners, and online.
Sitcoms play laugh reels as over-protective dads threaten their daughters’ potential suitors with shotguns. There are entire corners of the internet devoted to “Don’t date my daughter” memes and T-shirts. These same stereotypical dads are also portrayed as unengaged in housework or anything considered “feminine,” and profoundly uncomfortable if the topics of periods or bras come up.
But, in real life, thanks to the concerted effort of a new generation of dads, these tired stereotypes are finally being shattered. Mike Reynolds, an Ottawa father of two daughters, is on a mission to raise feminist kids unbound by stereotypes of what it means to be a girl. As a dad, he challenges traditional ideas of what it means to be “masculine.”
Reynolds is 40, and his daughters, Leah and Charlotte, are nine and seven years old. He is married to a woman, and identifies as pansexual.
We asked Reynolds about his approach to raising daughters, and what they’ve taught him. Here’s what he had to say in his own words.
How has having daughters changed your own views on what’s considered “feminine” vs. “masculine”?
“What they’ve helped me realize is that there is no reason why any one person shouldn’t be made up of characteristics that have traditionally been considered masculine or feminine. We have talked to them a lot about being able to do things they want to do as girls and that we are going to support anything they want to pursue. And I think it is important that we talk to them about me being able to do things I want to do as a man.
We don’t talk about things boys do and things girls do in our house, because that reinforces the idea that these things exist...
It’s also very important that we talk about nonbinary people and how gender is something that we have built up. They do a great job of talking to us about the importance of they/them pronouns and of helping us understand that gender is something that is a personal thing for all of us.”
What are some of the stereotypes that irk you, and how do you approach these differently?
“There are a lot of these. Dads as muscular protectors of daughters is one. Emotionless robots who can’t talk about menstruation is another. I don’t like the idea that all children need a dad or all kids need a mom. I think there is a need for role modelling behaviour, but that can be done without the need for ‘moms’ and ‘dads’.
I think we leave non-binary parents out of conversations way too often, and we allow gendered conversation to remove a lot of parents from feeling included. I think dads have the emotional capacity to become partners with their daughters through their lives. And if they don’t, I think dads need to step up and develop that capacity.
I’m tired of the idea of dads being given a free pass to be uninvolved in the lives of their kids because they aren’t expected to have the same skills other parents would. They don’t have these because society hasn’t expected them to. But we should expect them to, so let’s do better.”
How do you instill feminist values in your daughters, and why is this so important to you?
“...One thing [my wife and I] are really trying to talk to our daughters about is intersectionality and the importance of understanding that the experiences we have are not the same that everyone else has.
We have to continue to learn more about these experiences as parents, and pass this understanding on to our children and the same goes for our kids. They have the ability to understand the differences between classmates and friends, and it’s important to us that our children be a safe space for their friends who may need support as they grow up and understand their own identities.”
How do you try to be a role model?
“One of the most important things for me is showing my kids that learning never stops and that exploration of identity is an ongoing process. I came out as Queer later in life and I continue to explore my own identity. The same thing goes for identifying all the ways my behaviours are problematic and finding ways I can change those. I think it’s important that they see me working through these every day.
It’s important that they know that in addition to me doing my learning they know that I try to bring other men along on my own journey. This is the hardest part for me of being a role model. It’s easy to be loud when there is very little price to pay, when there is very little on the line. But how do you be loud when there is a friendship on the line? How do you tell a friend they are being a hurtful bigoted ass?
That’s when it’s really important to do it, and that’s when it’s hardest and most important.
It has also been important for me to show them my own experimentation with gender identity and expression at my age. It has been a fun way to show them that you never need to stop learning more about yourself and are allowed to be the one who dictates your own identity.”
You’ve recently started exploring your own femininity via makeup and dresses. How have your daughters encouraged you?
“...Makeup and my own form of dress is something that I watch them play with and it’s something I remember playing with when I was younger and it is something I want to try again now that I’m older. Watching their fearlessness with their dress and hair and expression gives me strength to do it, too.
My daughters have been so wonderfully supportive of this and I hope this reflects how we have parented them to be supportive of others and that it is indicative of the support they feel from us. I remember asking my youngest daughter if she wanted to go into a store with me to look for a dress for me and she was so excited to look for something. She was a little worried we might not find something in my size but otherwise couldn’t wait to look with me. And she is absolutely my makeup stylist of choice.”
Is your approach to femininity/feminism very different from how you were raised? Did your father have more traditional views? How do you reconcile this?
“My view is different for sure, and I expect that my daughters will have a different view than mine when they are my age, or at least I hope it will be.
...My parents gave me the understanding of how important it is to understand that we don’t ever have all the answers, and that there is always an opportunity to grow and learn. I think I am doing that as a parent and I think my parents continue to do that as parents and as grandparents.”
If you could give other dads advice on embracing a modern approach to raising daughters, what would you tell them?
“Be ready to learn that a lot of what you’ve learned growing up is harmful to the development of your kids. Be ready to learn that a lot of your behaviours may be problematic. Learn how to take criticism without lashing out in anger and how to integrate that new learning into your day-to-day life.
It’s really important that we understand that we’ll make mistakes and create spaces for one another to do this. Learn to get comfortable talking about hard topics instead of running away from them.”
SLIDESHOW: Canadian dads we love
Also on HuffPost: