“Ask a Dad” is a regular parenting column by author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards in which he tackles some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have two teen daughters whose figures make them look much older than they actually are (13 and 15 years old). During a holiday get-together, my father-in-law repeatedly made awkward comments around them, like, “I hope your dad buys a shotgun for when boys come to the house.” My girls were really uncomfortable, but my husband laughed it off as the kind of joke that every dad ― or grandfather, in this case ― makes when talking about teen daughters. But the girls didn’t like it one bit, and neither did I. How do I talk to my husband and his dad about this so future holidays aren’t so cringeworthy?
― Ashley in Oakland, California
I’m 100 percent with you on this one, Ashley. I’ll never understand men who make comments like this. They’re inadvertently telling their daughters (or granddaughters), “I don’t trust your ability to choose the right person, so I’m going to intimidate all of them by putting a killing machine in their faces. That will teach ‘em to treat you right.” It’s straight up stupid. And the fact it’s assumed boys will soon come knocking based on your teen daughters’ mature looks is really gross and not exactly empowering to them as young women.
I know, I know. People are surely reading this thinking, “Oh boy, the PC police are sounding the alarms, again.” But if being a member of the PC police means not being an out-of-touch asshole, then I’ll proudly rock that badge. Feel free to stop me if you’ve heard this before, but gun violence is a big problem in America. The mere suggestion or joke that an adult should pull a gun on a teenager is beyond my level of understanding. So is making inappropriate comments about teenagers’ physical attractiveness, knowing what we do about how these kinds of comments can negatively affect young women’s sense of self-worth as they grow up.
My two daughters aren’t even close to dating age yet, but when they are, I plan to tell them they can bring anyone to our house (boy or girl), and I’ll do my part to make them feel comfortable and welcomed. Of course, if these guests engage in behavior that make my daughters unhappy or uncomfortable, I’ll address it accordingly, just like any well-adjusted grownup should. And it won’t entail waving a gun around like Yosemite Sam.
Your situation is a pretty simple one, Ashley. Tell your husband to knock it off. Tell him your daughters don’t find the jokes funny at all ― in fact, they were offended by them. Anyone who continues to spout off the same comments after being told your girls were upset by them is one of those aforementioned out-of-touch assholes. Your husband will fall in line if he doesn’t want his daughters to think of him that way.
Your father-in-law? He may be a bit more challenging; old heads tend to be pretty set in their ways. But you have the leverage, here, because you are in charge of how much (or how little) he gets to hang out with his granddaughters. And you’re not going to make your kids spend time with people who make them feel uncomfortable — family, friends or otherwise. Make that very clear and institute a “zero tolerance policy” going forward. Note: This is a conversation you need to have with their grandfather, because he needs to see how serious you are about it. If you leave the discussion up to your husband, there’s a good chance the message could be lost in translation.
It’s 2019. If we all do something big or small to eliminate bad behavior this year, we’ll help make the world a better place.
My wife had a really rough 2018. Her best friend died in a drunk driving accident, and her mom was diagnosed with cancer. She and I have always lived a fit and healthy lifestyle, but her depression has gotten really bad. She’s distant with our kids, has stopped exercising and has (and I really don’t mean to sound like a jerk) gained a worrying amount of weight. My wife is normally a superwoman kind of mom ― she goes to work every day, cooks and cleans, reads stories to our daughters every night, and is at every ballet and soccer practice. I’m helping out as much as I can, but it’s been challenging. I love my wife and want to help her start off the new year on the right foot and get her mental and physical health back. I’m not even sure she realizes how bad it’s gotten. What can I do?
– Jim in Los Angeles, California
My guy, your wife is a woman in America. She’s probably fully aware she’s gained weight, no matter how depressed she is (not to mention that depression and weight gain often go hand-in-hand). I’m curious as to whether you’re more concerned about her physical health or mental health. You describe yourselves as a normally fit and healthy couple, so my guess is her weight gain has become an issue for your relationship. I get it: Sex and attraction are extremely important in a marriage. But I’ll be honest: It sounds like this might be more about you than her.
Someone once told me that women are expected to work as if they don’t have children and raise children as if they don’t work. Go back and read what you sent me, Jim. Your wife works outside of the home, cooks and cleans, takes your kids to their extracurricular activities and generally sounds like a great mom ― one who is probably already exhausted and overwhelmed on a good day. Then, her best friend dies in one of the most tragic ways possible, and her mom gets sick. Of course she’s struggling!
You say you’re “helping out” as much as you can, but what does that mean, exactly? Are you offering to cook (and are they healthy meals)? Are you doing the laundry without asking? Do you know what an arabesque is or how to braid your daughter’s hair? I hate it when husbands talk about “helping out” around the house as if they’re being heroic by lending a hand.
It’s disappointing that you need a complete stranger to tell you this, but now is the time for you to step up like you never have before. And don’t wait for her to ask you to do it, either. You’re a grown-ass man. You know what it takes to run a household. So do it.
Next, let’s address your wife’s mental health. It’s good that you recognize that she’s depressed and want to help her. Is she seeking therapy? Does she need additional medical attention? Does she have a support group of friends she can spend time with when she’s down? Are you making sure people know you’re currently the go-to parent for the kids, so any extra burden is lifted from your wife’s mental plate? Your job now is to do whatever’s necessary to ensure your wife is taking the requisite time for herself.
Then, and only then, will she be able to start addressing her physical health. And you can do it together in a way that makes sense for everyone. Take family walks around the neighborhood after dinner. Start a simple workout routine as a couple. Make a point to eat healthier meals in the new year as a family. Don’t mention her weight gain specifically, because I promise you, she’s totally aware of it. Just be her partner and stay supportive.
Last, and certainly not least, tell her how much you love and appreciate her. Every day. I’ve been told by my mom friends that hearing “thank you” has the same (if not more) impact than hearing “I love you.” No matter what happens, keep emphasizing how important she is to you and your family — because at the end of the day, happiness is the goal.
Doyin is a best-selling children’s author, keynote speaker and dad dedicated to making the world a better place for parents and their kids. Learn more about him on doyinrichards.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook @daddydoinwork.