March 23, 2011

The Dad Zone

Originally uploaded by Citizen Rob
Well, here we are. This morning saw an event that has loomed in the future, not as a bad thing, but just a thing. Today, Schuyler reached an important milestone in every pre-teen girl's life. You know what I'm talking about. Her crazy ride into young womanhood has begun.

(Note: Before the Corps of Righteous Indignation fires up the eFinger of Scoldage, yes, I did ask Schuyler if I could talk about this.)

When I mentioned this on Facebook, I got some interesting reactions. One was that they couldn't believe I was talking about it on Facebook, even after I pointed out that Schuyler knew I was doing so.

You can disagree with my choice to write in such detail about Schuyler's life; that's a valid discussion, and one that I've had from time to time.

But if I am going to write about the milestones in her life, why wouldn't I include the positive, non-disability ones as well? It's personal, to be sure, but I'm not sure it's more personal than the things that she has no choice but to expose every day, just by virtue of the fact that she attends a special education class and talks with an electronic device and a robot voice. And really, I think the reason she didn't mind was simply that from the moment we figured out what was going on, we presented it to her as something positive, something cool, to be celebrated. She told us that she was scared, but also that she was excited.

Schuyler is always very concerned about being taken seriously as a Big Girl, and once we explained what this meant, she stood a little taller and embraced the positives of the moment. I realize that will probably fade in a hurry, especially as the reality of the experience sinks in, but she's starting off from a place of celebration, not shame, and while I admit that we've gotten some things wrong in the past, I think we got this moment right. High fives, Team RumHud.

The other reaction I got, one that I suppose I should have seen coming, could be expressed along the lines of "Ooo, do you think you'll be able to handle this, Dad? Just wait until you have to deal with feminine hygiene products!" (Cue sinister music.)


So let me make this clear. No, I don't love the fact that Schuyler's entering this phase of her life, not least of all because for her, the hormonal changes that bring her first period may also be causing seizures or otherwise stirring her neurological processes in a way that no one can predict or prevent. Puberty's a lot less amusing when it bares a monster's tooth and claw.

But for me, the anxiety I felt this morning mostly grew out of the unavoidable reality that Schuyler is growing up, quickly and wildly, and the days when her otherworldliness is cute are rapidly running out. And more narcissistically, it makes me feel old. REALLY old. That's a universal Dad experience, I guess, with or without a disability. My little girl isn't going to be a little girl much longer. Perhaps she already isn't, and hasn't been for a while.

So yeah, this makes me twitch a little. Maybe more than a little. But it's not because I have some inexplicable fear of icky girl stuff. Is that really supposed to be my reaction? "Ew ew ew, stop talkin' about it and turn on the ball game already! Jesus Christ, woman..." Someone asked if I would be capable of going to the store and buying "supplies" if Julie couldn't. Really? Why wouldn't I? Someone else pointed out that as a man, I wouldn't necessarily know what to get. Which is very true. Which is why I would ask. I don't drink coffee, either, but I still buy it for Julie when I go to the store. I can read a shopping list. I can absorb information when presented to me. Honestly, I'm baffled that this would even come up, and yet part of me understands perfectly. But it's still bullshit.

So let me ask you, Society. Do you want fathers to be involved in the lives of their daughters? Then you have to let go of the Big Dumb American Dad narrative. You have to forget about Fred Flintstone, Homer Simpson, and the cast of every stupid "Tyler Perry Presents..." show on TBS. Because I do whatever Schuyler needs me to do, and in the past that has included taking her to buy new bras. Yes, I realize that everyone's comfort level will obviously be higher when Julie takes the lead on this particular issue (there's progressive, and then there's pragmatic), but this isn't something that's permanently outside The Dad Zone. It's ALL in The Dad Zone. When Schuyler needs help with this, if I'm the one here, then I'll be the one to help her.

And here's the thing. That's true of every other father I know. The only fathers I know of whom this might not be true are a generation apart, maybe two generations, and honestly, I suspect most of them would step up when the situation called for it, too. I'll make a big, overly generalized statement here, while I'm at it. If you're a father here in the year 2011 and you're NOT comfortable helping your daughter with "girl stuff"? You need to GET comfortable with it. It's your goddamn job. You're not being cute if you run away from it. You're being a shitty dad. And you're kind of a shitty mom if you let him get away with that.

Sorry, but that's my snotty opinion. You know where to send the hate mail.


Lauri said...

I asked my husband for his take about this as we have a 6 year old daughter. This is actually the first time we have discussed this particular topic. He thinks he will have no problem buying Livi any hygiene products, he too can read a shopping list, but he would leave the talking about it up to me.

If he were a single Dad and needed to do it alone he says " I will figure something out". He said it's hard to explain something he has not experienced in. He feels it's my area as a Mom of expertise. But in general he is not uncomfortable with the idea, but thinks our daughter would be more comfortable coming to me.

I think you and Julie are doing great job raising your girl and this milestone should be celebrated. I can't believe how fast your girl is growing up

Niksmom said...

I just want to make it perfectly clear that I think you are a fucking AWESOME dad to Schuyler. Let the haters hate, KWIM? Congrats to Schuyler for reaching a very big milestone.

Robert Hudson said...

That's it exactly, Lauri. I don't think any married dad is going to turn to his wife and say "I've got this one, honey." But we're capable and ready to do whatever is required of us. I get a little sick of the narrative (driven by a hundred crappy tv sitcoms) that says otherwise.

Sherry said...

That is absolutely effing BRILLIANT!! You ROCK and any Dad that shares your philosophy rocks too. Just awesome. AWESOME!!

Suzanne said...

It's an exciting moment for a girl, and it sounds like you guys are doing a wonderful job with making it a special event. I dread Janey entering puberty, as she will most like have no clue what is happening, and I wonder if some of the negative seeming responses you got on Facebook were actually fear from people like myself, thinking about their own daughters. I'm going to have to think about my own fears about this---it reflects some of my general fear of Janey growing up, and no longer being the cute adorable little girl with autism. Anyway, Schuyler is lucky to have you (as you are lucky to have her also!)

Robert Hudson said...

Oh, I get that, Suzanne. I understand that perfectly, and there are some issues with Schuyler understanding exactly what is going on that we have to deal with, too.

But they are parent issues, not mom issues, I guess that's my point.

feffer said...

I had an embarassed reaction when I read your FB post this morning, before I realized that OF COURSE you would have asked Schuyler. My first period (at 11 years old, too) was on Christmas morning, and my dad announced it to his whole family, without my permission. Of course, that was over 20 years ago and I was a bit prissy.

On the second thing... seriously? Of all the dads I know in real life and on the internets, you're one of the LAST that I'd expect to be embarassed over purchasing the necessary stuff. I wonder whose blog these other people are reading.

Angie said...

Thanks for writing this. I saw the comments/finger/head shaking on FB and it really ticked me off. My husband is just as capable of taking care of our daughter's menstruation needs as I am; once we found the product our daughter liked the best, he has had no problem buying them or whatever. I don't get why people think fathers can't "deal" with periods? Actually, I find it to be pretty sexist to assume that a man will be all "grossed out" or "scared" by this natural female progression. ugh, people.

For what it's worth, my daughter started when she was 10. She found that she felt most comfortable with the Always Overnight pad (I think it's got some sort of superwhamadyne comfort "dri" weave) because they were long enough that she didn't worry about any accidents/leakage. We sent in a note for her teacher to let her know what was going on in the case our daughter had to use the restroom more often. The school nurse is also a good person to touch base with, and let Schuyler know that if she gets caught at school without any protection the nurse will have something she can use.

Candy said...

We didn't discuss lady problems in my house growing up. My kids are 10 and 8. The girl is 8. I suspect this is a discussion we'll have. I don't really hide it, but the reality is it just hasn't really come up.

Having said that, my husband almost always does the shopping. He has been known to run out and grab tampons if I need them. Who cares? Do you worry someone is going to find out your wife is on the rag? I asked him once why he doesn't care when others seem to... he said "well, it's not like people will think they are for ME!"

You did good, Rob. Fuck the naysayers. Seriously. She was fine with it. That's all that matters. It's just a period. I realize it's shocking, but all females have them, usually monthly too!

Ariadne said...

Congratulations Schuyler!

Puberty is starting so much younger now, I was at least a teenager before I had to deal with bras and periods.

Did you buy her flowers? My dad did and way too many products, so I could try all the brands and find my favourite.

R said...

Rob, you are a wonderful father. I'm glad that Schuyler has you and Julie for her parents.

I was there the day that my profoundly disabled friend P started her period. She was 19 years old and 70lbs and nobody knew for sure (and still don't) that she understands what's going on. It. Doesn't. Matter. You can still celebrate the onset of physical maturity, you treat any apparrent cramps pain just as you would any other, you keep changing the pads/diapers and the addition of 30ml of blood to the normal contents thereof truly isn't a big deal.

To the other parents worried that their daughter might not understand etc. - really, you don't need to worry. If you're not sure (eg she has a profound physical impairment, say CP or Rett Syndrome and can't communicate her understanding), assume that she DOES understand, tell her the relevant things, and celebrate her womanhood anyway. If your daughter isn't going to be menstruating, celebrate anyhow, maybe round about her 13th birthday. It'll be okay, really.

Unknown said...

Great post. Congrats to Schuyler. I remember being embarrassed when I entered this dad would make fun and all that crap. What an ASSHOLE! And yes, it IS shitty if a dad runs away from FH products...grow up!
You rock Rob!
Shannon in Austin

Robert Hudson said...

Yeah, we emailed the school nurse and the special ed teacher first thing this morning.

kateypie35 said...

Congratulations! A big milestone in a girl's life. My Dad took me out to a special lunch to celebrate, a date with his "new lady". :)

JM said...

I had to comment on this (though I follow your blog, I rarely comment simply because I don't often feel I could add to the conversation).

My dad was one of those gruff, no-nonsense, reserved, "typical" Southern dads. He was in the military in the Vietnam era. He and I never discussed "things" like that.

One day when I was 15, I had begged him for hours to allow me to go with my then-boyfriend's family to the lake for the weekend. Once he finally said yes, I realized I'd have to ask him to buy me tampons, since I would be in the water all weekend and only had pads. My mom was gone for the weekend to a tennis tournament, and I couldn't drive. I remember stammering out that I needed him to buy me some "stuff" and he finally worked out of me what I needed.

It totally didn't faze him at all and he just asked me if I had an empty box to show him so he could make sure to get the right brand/type.

I never thought he was dumb by any means nor the typical sitcom dad, but it had just never dawned on me before that he would even be capable of buying such a thing without being embarrassed.

Go, Rob! You're a great dad!

Meredithitis said...

You are the kind of father I had and the kind of father my husband is and for that you should be proud. I celebrated (vocally to friends and family) my daughter's journey into womanhood, though my listener group is smaller I also got her permission. Congratulations Schuyler and welcome to the club!

Nechama said...

awesome post :) Raise your hands 2011 Dads! I do think nowadays husbands are different and will step up to the bat on these kinds of issues. I know my husband would for sure- seriously guys, its nothing to be ashamed of! Congrats to Schuyler on this big milestone! :)

Rodney said...

"I'm baffled that this would even come up, and yet part of me understands perfectly. But it's still bullshit."

That's very true - and an excellent post, as usual. Isn't the main point about being a Dad being, you know, grown up about stuff like this?

mek said...

Congrats to Schuyler - that is an important milestone!

My own Dad made my milestone lots better and more positive by simply congratulating me and saying he thought it was great. That's one of the best things a dad can do, in so many circumstances!

Kathy W. said...

Congratulations to Schuyler! She will be an awesome grown-up woman.

And here's a little period piece (ahem) you might enjoy. Unfortunately, the father in it is kind of (okay, more than kind of) creepy.

Bernard said...

Rob, with you completely on dads being involved in the life of their daughters. My wife said to me many years ago that I was modeling my daughters' future husband. I don't always do a great job, but that sometimes helps when it's an especially bad day.

As for bra shopping. I think both of my teenage girls would DIE before they let me do that with them. Me, I'm too thick-skinned and battle-scared to get embarrassed about buying any clothing.

Kate said...

This made me appreciate my dad so much. He never blinked at my sister and I discussing puberty or menses, he bought our supplies as requested when asked and - though this may be TMI - scrubbed more than a few undergarments and other articles of clothing we managed to wreck. My dad was the best mom as well as the best dad I could have asked for. (from as far back as first grade when he was a class mother). Congrats to you for joining the ranks of awesome dads.

amylia said...

Well said, period.

NRenee said...

Both of my parents were been there for all my big milestones, including the incredibly awful periods I had when I was 11. My dad was the one who helped me figure out what to say to my (older and clueless) male teacher when I got in trouble for sprinting to the bathroom every 45 minutes.

Anyway, you're absolutely right--anyone who can't buy tampons and talk about cramps isn't doing his job as a dad. Nicely done!

Linda said...

I do agree that because it's personal to Schuyler, it's right to ask her, and as soon as I saw that you posted about it, I assumed you had.

Other than that, what's the big damn deal anyway? Everybody you see walking down the street is the result of someone having periods. It's like being freaked out by pregnant women on the assumption that it reminds you that they've had sex. (AND PERIODS.)

It's mostly a milestone that means, like many milestones, that in this respect, things for Schuyler are going just as they should, and that's a lovely thing in my book.

Anonymous said...

My parents both knew when I got my first, something I don't think my dad was involved in with my much older sister.

Knowing how my cycle affects my diabetes, I feel for Schuyler (and you and Julie) as these hormones might be influencing the seizures at such a young age. Bleh.

Anonymous said...

I started reading your writing when Schuyler was a toddler. The fact that she has now reached this milestone makes ME feel old!

Congratulations to her! I know it will make life more difficult in some ways, but it's a difficulty that almost all us ladies face together, whether we have a monster in our life or not.

My father was absent from my life in essentially every meaningful way. I still have a really difficult time understanding what it is that a father is supposed to DO. The privilege of reading about your journey in fatherhood has helped me to understand what a real father does. Even though I don't have any personal basis for comparison, it seems like you're doing a really fantastic job.

CarrieT said...

Well said and say congrats to your not-so-little anymore girl!! When I was 12 I went to a major league baseball game with my dad, uncle, brother, and boy cousins. I needed to bring some "supplies" with me but as the only female along for the trip and because I was 12 at the time I was too embarrassed to carry a purse, which I usually didn't do. My dad (who IS the older generation) volunteered to carry what I needed in his coat pocket. Now THAT is love. :-)

My only comment about you shopping for her products is that even I get overwhelmed at the huge aisle of choices in the store. Good grief!! I am the woman who is actually using them and I can't always find what I want or they change the packaging and I don't recognize them. Don't feel bad if you get confused and make sure you get specific directions from your ladies as to which type they need. :-)

Anyone remember that comedy song about what is in a woman's purse? Was it Adam Sandler? "There's things with wings, and things with strings!" :) :) :)

Carrie T.

Elizabeth said...

One of my favorite stories is of a friend of mine who has a daughter with severe CP, a girl with an excellent mind locked into a body that is profoundly disabled. Anyway, this friend and her family went on a vacation to Hawaii and planned a snorkeling expedition that the daughter with CP would go on as well, albeit adaptively. The morning of the swim, she had her period and they realized that they would have to use a tampon. My friend said that she held her daughter's legs while her husband inserted it and just before he did so, he held it up and said to his wife and daughter, "You've got to love this life, right?" And then they all burst out laughing. That's a father, and I imagine you to be one, too.

gogalucky said...

My dad was actually the one who told me to take pads "just in case" on a 3 day school trip in the 7th grade...when of course, I ended up getting my first period. Some dads don't suck!

Unknown said...

This post made me literally cheer. Can you imagine what a world it would be if EVERY man let go of the Big Dumb American Dad and EVERY woman let go of the Big Dumb Shoe-Obsessed Woman?

MarieBlue said...

That is true of my husband as well. He can hold my purse, buy me feminine products- any of that. My ex husband? Huge baby about it.

Matilda said...

I don't have kids, but I vividly recall a conversation about partner relationships in which one participant cited a man who would gallantly sally forth into a store to buy your pads or tampons as some kind of romantic ideal. It had never come up with my (now) spouse, and I remember IMing him and asking, "You'd do that, right? I mean, they don't burn you like elven rope or something?" He, of course, confirmed that this was the kind of question that would appear on a Basic Competency for Grown-Ups exam.

Julia O'C said...

I was *so* proud when I hit that milestone - and I couldn't wait to tell my Dad. A girl shouldn't have to feel that she needs to hide this part of herself. Good for you and Julie for celebrating it with her!

YAY, Schuyler! Congratulations!

Laurel said...

Congratulations to Schuyler, and to you as her parents--it's a milestone for sure.

My kids are so much younger that I haven't thought ahead to this stuff, but I'd think my husband would do whatever was needed in this department. I'd be lying if I said I thought he was 100% comfortable with buying "feminine products," but if it's needed he sacks up and does it, and that's enough for me. And for a daughter, as a protective and caring parent--of course he'd do what he had to.

I loved reading the comments on this one--so many awesome NON-dumb-dads, and the people married to them, have brightened my day. You too, Rob.

Machu Picchu said...

I don't think I've ever posted a comment on your blog before, even though I've been reading it for several years. But I just had to tell you I think this is one of my favorite things you've ever posted. I get very tired myself of stereotyped gender narratives, and this topic fits right into that.

Unknown said...

Hi, Congrats to Schuyler! There is a website somewhere that allows girls from around the world to post their feelings about "becoming a woman". It's really cool; my friend and I found it when her daughter got her period. Reading through the comments was really amazing - girls from all over the world have put their stories there. There are several sites like this; Schuyler might be interested in reading some of the stories. I found them really touching. You do sound like an awesome dad, way cooler than mine. :)

Me said...

My NT granddaughter adored reading "My Little Red Book" well in advance of reaching this milestone.

Unknown said...

You are a rockin' dad.

I used to worry about offending the male ears in the room and didn't really speak of periods and such in "mixed company". But then I realized I didn't want to be associated with guys who'd freak out if I so much as mentioned that I was having cramps.

My SO is the father of two girls, one who just finished her first period. He's always been absolutely fine buying supplies for me, and was just as fine buying supplies for her. That's one of the reasons he's a rockin' dad too. :)

BigRed said...

You are the best dad ever. EVER.

Danielle said...


Good on you. I think the neanderthal father stereotype is the scruge of our society in many ways. It lets men get away with being detached, uninterested in, and unempathetic to their daughters, which doesn't set them up to demand respect from other men. At least that's what I see.

But disgust with feminity has never been my normal. I have moderate CP, although my speech is unaffected, and I'm mobile in some respects, I use powerchair, and I need help with most aspects of personal care. My dad has never fiinched at that reality, even when it began to involve products foreign to him. At the time his mantra was "I have a wife and a mother, and I'm not a complete idiot, so I can handle this." Will he help me in this way forever? Probably not. But when I was 13 it was definitely what I needed. If he had altered his role it would added to my already considerable embarrassment.

I think breaking gender stereotypes and roles always makes people uncomfortable, but if the catch phrase "a child needs two parents" is going to mean more than "a child needs two incomes", then regardless of the child's ability, both parents need to be involved enough to do what a situation requires.

Besides condom manufacturers put pretty obnoxious text on their packaging, any man who can confidently buy somehing that says; "EXTRA LARGE! RIBBED FOR ULTRA STIMULATION" should find nothing to blush at in maxi pads. Seriously.

But that's just my $0.02


C. said...

Spare me the drama of men who cannot participate in this important milestone of their daughters' lives. Any man who has a problem buying their daughters' hygiene products is robbing himself of fully 'getting' their girls. I know you, of all men, are not one of those. Still, a melancholy moment and clearly not just from a 'my girl is a big girl now' perspective. Go Schuyler!

Unknown said...

My husband: no problem going to the store for feminine products, but totally incapable/embarrassed of talking to our teen Asperger's son re: masturbation. I pick up the slack and have no problem doing that. Kudos to you Rob for celebrating this for what it is: one of those typical milestones for both you and Schuyler. Haters, step off.

MissMeliss said...

As someone blessed with a great father-figure (my stepfather, but blood does not always make a family), I really love that there are other fathers, like you, who "get it."

And to Schuyler: welcome to (young) Womanhood. I remember my mother making me phone my grandparents to announce my own womanhood over the phone.

-- Melissa

Penny said...

Wonderful post Rob. As Mom to 3 gals, I cannot imagine how my hubby would ever not be involved. I've got two arms, that's all and your daughters need help. He is right there. It's a parent's job, no matter the sex of that parent. I imagine two fathers in a relationship raising a daughter and each walking away from the responsibility like 'Ewww, who, us?' We wouldn't fathom that, yet we fathom how Dads cannot buy feminine hygiene products.

My own father, on the other hand, would have rather been back in the war than raise a hand to help his two daughters with something like this. He cannot even talk about it. Its his era, he wasn't raised that way and it wasn't expected. He still was a great father. There are all different ways we experience our fathers being involved in our lives and sometimes, progress such as Dads being 100% involved, make it sweeter than it already was.

Mama Wendy said...

I LOVE that you are jumping in with two feet--whether you hate it or not. If we can't stop time marching across the face of us 'old folks,' we're certainly not going to stop the young from aging, either! Thanks for this very encouraging post. And hey, if you don't want to buy the stuff, send me an email and I'll send her a gift box with everything she needs--and a little extra--since she is a beautiful young lady that is absolutely deserving! ( :) W

watchwhathappens said...

a-fucking-MEN (pun intended)

Liana said...

Love. This.
I'm so appreciative of my husband being okay with "girl stuff"--I've heard that some men just don't wanna know about it, even though they're married to people whom they KNEW were biologically female.
Anyway, THANK YOU for making this statement. It's 2011 and fathers and husbands SO need to be supportive of all the ladies in their families in such a way. :)

Snowborber said...

You are a great dad that u hav no problem discussing this stuff with your daughter. And that you're always there for her. I'm 11 and I hardly spend time with my dad. He's always doing things on his own. I wish I could talk to him about this stuff. He's not informed in any way about me growing up. I can't talk to him coz he's not that close to me. Don't beleive what girls say that their dad is a boy. It's because they're not close enough with their dad.