The first time I put a golf club in my daughter's hand, she was 2 years old. It was made of plastic, and it had a bright purple club face. I showed her how to swing the club properly, arranging her pudgy little fingers correctly on the handle. She swung at the white, plastic golf ball and it whisked across the lawn in a full arc.
Moments later, she was running through the grass taking swings at the ball with her less dominate hand as if she were playing some kind of backwards game of hockey. I took joy in that, too -- watching her play and explore the different ways she could hit the ball, chasing it from one end of the lawn to the other. She began taking an interest in sports at such a young age, and I was open to any and everything she wanted to try.
Back when my wife and I first decided to have children, she would often joke that I would have to be the one to teach our child the ins and outs of sports. I'm a big sports fan. I write about sports for a living. I consume sports on a regular basis through various media devices. At 39, I play basketball, football, golf and workout four to five times a week. One of the things I looked forward to the most was teaching my child how to play different sports and sharing in the wonder, thrill, elation and defeat that go hand-in-hand with being a sports fan.
My father and I often bonded over sports ourselves. He came to all of my basketball and soccer games when I was growing up. Football and college basketball were our favorites to watch. He took me to the 1993 AFC Championship game between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bills routed the Chiefs 30-13. Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind" reverberated through the stadium after the win as confetti rained down on our heads. (The Super Bowl was held in Atlanta that year.) It was one of those moments where, if I close my eyes, I can still picture the entire scene.
I want to experience those moments with my daughter, too. And I want to provide those experiences free of judgment, that I can't do that fully because I'm not a man.
Throughout my life, even now in 2017, I've witnessed a common misconception about lesbian couples that they are somehow lacking. That without someone playing the male role, they are incomplete. My wife and I have been asked, "who's the man in the relationship?" on numerous occasions throughout our time together by acquaintances, friends and even family members -- the implication being that we must compensate for a missing element. Of course, the question is absurd. Our family is far from incomplete.
Parenting should not and does not come down to assigned gender roles. A father is just as capable of teaching a child how to bake a cake as a mother is at teaching a child what it means to jump offsides before the snap. My daughter and I can have the same kind of bond over sports that I had with my father, a bond that is constantly evolving and uniquely ours. And the joys, big and small, that we share over sports don't need anyone else's influence or guidance. They are ours to keep.
My daughter is 4 years old now and her interest in sports continues to grow. Our playtime just keeps on getting better and better. She likes soccer and we kick the mini soccer ball around the yard, taking turns guarding a homemade goal between two birch trees. I had to raise the old Fisher Price basketball hoop up a few notches because she's grown taller, and we play one-on-one in the driveway instead of in the house. She's started using my pitching wedge, despite having to choke up a lot on the handle, to hit real golf balls in our backyard.
But wait, there's more.
She has also developed a real love for gymnastics. My wife is very actively involved in endurance sports and participates in half marathons and triathlons. Our daughter looks up to her and loves to run, too. We're both influencing her love of sports in different and distinctive ways. But it doesn't matter what sports she chooses to love or follow, because we will help cultivate, teach and guide her along the way regardless.
For me, watching my daughter get the same joy from playing sports as I did growing up, and still do, is what is most important to me. It doesn't have to be a sport that I love or even one that I have played before. Truth be told, I was never all that into gymnastics. But I'd be lying, of course, if I didn't admit that her wanting to learn more about golf makes me smile. I already told her we'd get her a set of youth clubs when she's a little older. She asked me if they can be purple. Until then, I'll keep letting her use my pitching wedge. I don't mind.