I am the father of a cheerleader. This may sound like no big deal to you, but for me, it's quite conflicting. First of all, let me be honest by saying that when I was younger I wasn't too sure about having children. Not because I didn't want children, mind you, but because I was afraid that with me as their father they would have little hope of enjoying a good life. I was dorky. I was not popular. I was not attractive. I had little in the way of hopes or dreams.
In short, I was a mopey teenager. And I was afraid that I would always be that way.
Life, as it does, turned out differently, but as soon as I found out that my first child was going to be a girl, I felt something from my past rear its head and I knew: I did not want my daughter to ever be a cheerleader.
Stereotypes are hurtful, and if you've watched any TV or movies over the past 20 years, you know exactly what the cheerleader stereotype is: vapid, shallow, vicious, spiteful, manipulative, insecure, hurtful, condescending, vain...the list could go on. Never mind that the woman I married (a former cheerleader) was NONE of those things - or that many of the cheerleaders I actually knew in high school weren't either - I was still determined that my daughter, to borrow a phrase from Rick Reilly, would be better served excelling between the sidelines instead of on them.
My folly was assuming that my daughter would simply go along with my plan.
Ella, , has a particular mind of her own, a trait of which I am very proud. Rachel and I have always wanted to foster her as a thinker and leader instead of a follower. Sometimes, as she argues with us until we want to poke our eyes out, we are all too aware of just how much we have succeeded in that regard, which highlights the problem with raising a free-thinking daughter: on occasion she doesn't agree with you.
Cheerleading was one of those occasions.
Ella's best friend in the world, Emma Grace, was a cheerleader last year. EG got to wear the cute skirts, the hair bows, the nifty cheerleading shoes. She got to shake pom-poms and do little kicks, flicks and tricks. And she showed Ella all of this.
Now, my daughter is a sucker for pageantry. She loves costumes. She loves the idea of spectacle and show. So this cheerleading bit was right up her alley. Almost immediately, she wanted to become one with the cheer squad.
I wanted to throw up.
Not to denigrate cheerleading, but most of the people in the stands who are looking at the girls are watching what's going on behind them. At best, they are a moderately annoying view obstruction. At worst, they are targets for derision and flat-out hatred, not to mention sexual objectification.
Let's not also forget that cheerleading is the most dangerous of all sports for young girls. Don't believe me? Read this story from ABC News and get back to me. And if that's not reason enough, then there's this: a Federal court just issued a ruling that cheerleading is NOT a sport under Title IX, and therefore cannot be counted towards gender-equity compliance.
So cheerleading is insanely dangerous AND it's not a sport. Put that in your pom-pom and shake it.
But I had to pause and consider something: if I carried my inherently negative thoughts towards cheerleading to their logical conclusion, I would become negative towards my daughter. I would, essentially, destroy her with my words, attitudes and thoughts. Knowing this, I vowed to keep my comments to myself. I promised that I would be nothing but a super-supportive dad. No snide remarks during sessions at the cheer gym. No cutting jokes during the choreography of the dance routine. No condescending blather while she practiced imploring her team "T-D, we want a touchdown!"
I have been the model of restraint.
Well, almost. I lost it when she tried on her bloomers (the little underwear-like thing that covers up the real underwear); they were a little too tight and little too high-cut for my tastes. I held my tongue, though, until she tried on her skin-tight long sleeve undershirt with the ridiculously deep v-neck. At that point I looked at Rachel and said, "Did we buy a cheerleading uniform or an exotic dancer starter kit?"
Let's just say daddy has issues with the uniform.
I never imagined how challenging it would be for my child to choose her own path. I've learned to accept that she has chosen to do something that I never wanted her to do, but what I've not mastered is my own response to choice. I know it's only cheerleading, but I feel like it's imperative for me to set aside my own history and embrace the fact that she's writing her own. Maybe she falls in love with cheerleading and it becomes a life-long passion; maybe she does it for a season and decides to move on. I don't know. But what I do know is that this is what Ella is right now, and for me to be a true father, I need to be there for her in the moment.
Because some day in the future we'll arrive at another one of these moments, and I want her to know - to really KNOW - that her daddy loves and supports her. Always.
Ironic, isn't it? A man who hated cheerleading has become a cheerleader himself. And will always be that way, no matter what.