You are approaching that age now, when you look around and see how other dads raised their daughters. You are noticing that I did things differently, that you are not like other little girls, the ones who never leave home without a ribbon in their hair. You are brave and curious, and are beginning to realize that these qualities are not accidents. I want to explain why, because it will help you understand the way you are.
I taught you how to punch. Not because you should grow up fighting, but because, if ever forced to, you should know how. I once saw a little girl in Afghanistan who had acid thrown in her face because she wanted to go to school. You are not yet ready to know what some people do to each other, but I want you to be prepared. You will grow stronger every day, and the moment will come when you will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.
I have nurtured your curiosity. When we found the spider under our orange tree with the red hourglass on her belly, we did not kill her. We watched, night after night, as she tended her web and waited patiently. We read books about her, and told jokes about how she ate her boyfriends for lunch. And when she finally caught a beetle, we watched her strike and wrap it tight with silk. You found that the things which scare most little girls have the most to teach us.
I let you learn hard lessons. You wanted to walk barefoot to the park through six inches of snow, so I tucked your boots in my backpack and said, “Let’s go.” When your stubborn feet had nearly turned to ice, we rubbed your toes until they were warm, and I pulled out your boots and socks and slipped them on. You discovered that winter footwear, however unstylish, is a good thing. You also learned that cold feet, however uncomfortable, will not kill you.
I taught you to respect nature, to hunt and to fish. Not for the sake of killing, but because the surest way to honor the living earth is to be part of it. You dug for worms and baited your own hooks, and most of the time we cooked what we caught. We raised chickens together and loved them, and ate the eggs they laid and offered thanks. You know and love the world that sustains us, and you understand that meat does not grow on grocery store shelves inside plastic wrapping.
I allowed you to test your limits. When we surfed together, you paddled towards the outside break, even as the big waves kept pushing you back. You fought, and failed, but not really. We rode in, side by side, determined to try and try again until we owned the sea. Some day we will catch that giant storm-driven wave and the crowd on the beach will rise to its feet and marvel at the little girl riding down the mountain of water.
I taught you these things, because one day I will let you go. You will walk down a long aisle to start another life and another family. You will be perfect and beautiful. But no one will mistake that beauty for fragility. You will fight for others, while seeking new wonders. You will run barefoot through snow, while exalting all of creation. You will live life to its fullest, testing your own limits while obliterating those set by others.
Until then, be proud of who you are. Never let anyone tell you what a woman can and cannot do. And should someone make fun of how little girls hit, offer to teach them. Smile politely, square your stance, and give fair warning. Then knock the effing wind out of them. Because that is how a girl should punch.
Originally appeared in the Huffington Post, and reprinted at Fatherly.com.