RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --
I have a soon-to-be-2-going-on-18-year-old daughter, who teaches me something new about myself, or the world, in general almost weekly. Whether it’s what’s really important to me, how quickly a 1-year-old can frustrate a person, or that I’m guilty of committing and condoning sexual assault and harassment.
When my wife was pregnant, several people told me I was going to learn so much about myself having a child, but never in a million years would I have thought that would be one of them. It happened; though, it took a bit for the lesson to hit me.
A little over a year ago, my wife took my daughter to a party for one of my coworkers. I wasn’t able to attend, so I got the story secondhand, but the son of my coworker tried to kiss my daughter’s hand. Had this not been my daughter, I’m sure I would have had the same “aww” reaction many of you may have just had. Instead, I had a reaction similar to my daughter’s since my wife told me our daughter initially just pulled away. The young boy wasn’t deterred though, as he went back in and tried again to kiss her hand. This time, my daughter pulled away and hit him.
As her father, my first thought was “Yeah, baby girl! You let that boy know no means no.” As I said this to my infant child, my face must have changed, as I took on the role of a fellow parent whose child had struck someone else’s child. My wife told me his father told him he needed to ask permission. This father wasn’t upset that my child hit his child, so I didn’t give it much more thought after that.
It wasn’t until a few days later that the situation came back up. I pride myself on being an obnoxiously affectionate parent. I have every intention of slightly embarrassing my daughter when she becomes a teenager, so I often sneak a kiss on her check, nuzzle her neck and tickle her.
This particular day, I asked her for a kiss. Normally, she would be the one to ask for one by puckering her lips like she sees me and her mother do. This day she didn’t, so I puckered mine and asked for a kiss.
She said, “No!”
No was her first word, and she said it to everything, even the things she wanted. So, I thought, “she didn’t mean it”. It was her first time turning down a kiss from me. So I asked again and she gave me another no.
I said playfully, “I’m your daddy. I can kiss you if I want.”
So, I went in for my sneaky kiss on her cheek, and she hit me! Then, it hit me as my words came echoing back in my mind, “No means no,” - even for daddy.
Now, I can imagine some people are probably rolling their eyes at this point because I didn’t mean it in a sexual way. That little boy, who wasn’t even 2-years-old at the time, most likely didn’t mean his kiss on her hand in a sexual way, but she didn’t want either of the kisses we forced on her. That’s all that matters.
Before my soon-to-be-2-going-on-18-year-old daughter was born, my wife and I had agreed we wouldn’t force her to be hug, kiss, or even shake hands with anyone she didn’t feel comfortable with, relatives included. You’ve all probably heard or read stories about family members sexually assaulting their young relatives. While my intentions toward my daughter weren’t sexual, it doesn’t matter when she’s decided I’m not to touch her. We want and need our daughter to know that no one has a right to touch her when she doesn’t want them to, including family - including daddy.
So, I started legitimately asking my soon-to-be-2-going-on-18-years-old daughter for her permission to kiss her. When she says no, I don’t kiss her. My wife usually gives me an extra comfort kiss when this happens, which usually leads to my daughter coming back to give me a kiss anyway, mimicking her parents.
She mimics us all the time and it is this aspect of her that pushed any doubt of my innocence to condoning sexual assault and harassment out of my mind.
Like many spouses, I often playfully grab my wife’s butt. Well, I did until my daughter did it one day after I did. The act shocked me and my wife. When my daughter did it, I told her it wasn’t nice to touch someone without their permission - a lesson I knew she understood, somewhat if not completely, but how could I? She copied me and I didn’t ask permission.
It didn’t matter that it was my wife I grabbed. It didn’t matter that my wife was okay with it because I had done it before. In fact, my wife thought it was silly the next time I asked her if I could touch her butt. She said I didn’t have to ask permission, but I do because my daughter is watching. My actions, and those of my wife, are setting precedent for our child’s actions and responses.
I think it’s hilarious, and often adorable, when children mimic their parents. My wife was hit with that curse of having a child who is just like her, but even if their actions are funny to us, they are also living examples of the outcome of our own actions.
I keep referring to my daughter as a soon-to-be-2-going-on-18-year-old because in American society 18 is the age when a person begins to receive some adult privileges. They don’t need their parents’ permission for a lot of things, can vote, and are even tried as an adult for crimes they commit.
But 18 isn’t the magic number for understanding. My daughter wasn’t even one-year-old when this hand kiss situation happened, when she understood her no meant no - even for a kiss on the hand, and my coworker and her husband wanted their one-year-old son to understand that as well. They wanted him to understand that as much as I needed to understand it.
I need you to understand that I didn’t only understand this lesson because I have a daughter who could become one of the 1-in-5 women the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studies say will report experiencing rape at some point in their life. I would like to say I didn’t need a woman of any kind in my life to appreciate this lesson, but I couldn’t say that with 100 percent certainty. I’ve always had my mother and four older sisters, and now wife, who I almost always think about when I hear that number. Because of the pervasiveness in American culture, I have attended a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response course every year I’ve been in the military.
Almost every year, I heard about some small act or statement that could make someone feel uncomfortable that I’ve committed or even had done to me. I didn’t think of them as sexual harassment, especially since no one said anything about them.
My daughter forced me to continuously evaluate my actions and words in this regard. The incidents that came to light in the SAPR courses were one-off things for me. I knew not to say or do them again, or allow them to happen to me or others, if possible. I hadn’t quite arrived at the mindset of evaluating the effect my everyday action, or inaction, had on condoning sexual harassment and assault, on instilling that same action or inaction into those watching.
That’s what my daughter, along with another child under the age of 2, did for me. She taught me that my every day actions and words, even with someone I’m familiar with, have consequences more far-reaching than I could ever imagine. Oh, the things you learn from babies.