Unlabeled: Challenging Stereotypes as a Dad
As a Dad to a Daughter, Here’s What I Think About All Pink Everything by Alex Davidson
My mother was so excited for her son and son-in-law that she continuously sent package after package of new clothes to our house. Week after week they came, each filled to the brim to show just how much she loved her new granddaughter.
Newborns do not stay small for long, and with piles of new clothes forming I found some time to go to the store and exchange some items for some bigger sizes. I packed the multiple bags of pink, purple, and pink/purple pants and shirts into my car, excited at the prospect of getting some greens, yellows, and grays into my new daughter’s wardrobe.
I walked into the store and quickly learned about the “boys” and “girls'' sections: girls were meant to wear three colors: pink, purple, and pink/purple. Dresses and shirts were adorned with phrases such as “World’s Best Mom” or “Mom Knows Best.”
Across the aisle in the boys’ section, I saw gray pants, green sweatshirts, black vests, and superheroes. Lots of superheroes. Absent were any “World’s Best Dad” or “Dad Knows Best” shirts, let alone clothes with designs and slogans geared toward kids rather than parents.
After repeated trips to the store to make exchanges — my mom’s packages kept coming — I quickly developed a strategy to find the clothes I want: ignore the sections; pick eye-catching colors; and get clothes that fit my daughter’s developing personality. As a parent of a child with two Dads the same sentences went through my head every time I went to that store: “Right. I’m different here too.”
Being a new parent is hard. You’re quickly confronted with lots of decisions and few people to help you navigate them. You are also confronted with all the stereotypes and prescribed narratives that come along with being a “mom” or a “dad”. As a gay man, I was used to creating my own narrative. I realized that now, as a gay adoptive parent with my husband, we would have to chart our own course.
And here’s what I realized: Past experiences figuring it out on my own set me up to feel totally comfortable crossing that aisle from the girls’ to boys’ section in the store: I’ve dressed in drag, I like the color pink, and why would I ever let a clothing store dictate to me what was in my closet, let alone my kid’s closet!?!
One thing that’s clear with kids is that they see the world differently than we do. They take things less seriously and like to play. So why not encourage that through their clothing? Why not make fashion an enabler of expressing who they are rather than telling them they have a limited sandbox in which to play?
We have been lucky to be in a generation where more and more we see boys running around in dresses and girls wearing all black. We love seeing kids play with gender, mixing and matching styles that speak to them rather than the outside world. We love the freedom that comes from picking clothes the same way we pick our food at the supermarket: choose what nourishes you and your body. Food is meant to be enjoyed, mixed and matched, played with through new and old recipes. Clothes should be too.
Eventually my mother’s boxes of clothing stopped coming — our daughter passed age 8 and she was ready to choose her own clothes. She is still amazed when we shop for pants and remembers history books that talk about women being admonished for wearing pants. She asks: “Why would anyone care? Who made those rules?” Good questions!
Our kids are ready to have playful fashion that matches their ability to see each other as people, not strictly as boys or girls who fit into a box. Let’s take that box, shake it out on the floor, and mix and match until our kids pick what they want to wear. Everything ends up dirty in the laundry machine anyway!