Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dad, You’re Beautiful

There wasn't anything that prompted it. She had been running between the living room and her bedroom, leaping every few feet and attempting to fly. She was a fairy again. When she left the ground I could hear her take a breath that, milliseconds later, shot out in an audible “UH!” as she came back to the carpeted earth. Then she’d smile, start running and try again. The plastic fairy wings a friend of Stevie’s had bought her were adorable, but not very good at actually making her fly. On her eleventieth try she came running over to me on the couch, hugged my lap and told me that I was beautiful. 

“Dad, you’re beautiful.”

Handsome. Somewhere in the back of my head a voice said handsome. Boys are handsome and girls are beautiful. I opened my mouth to correct her, and stopped the words before they fell irretrievably into the space between us.

“Thank you! Why am I beautiful?”

She put on her thinking eyes. Now they are beautiful. When she puts them on her eyebrows raise and her cheeks widen just enough to give her tiny toddler forehead creases. 

“Weeeell…” She stretches words out when she is stalling. She gets that from me. “You’re beautiful … because… you’re beautiful.”

Handsome. Men are handsome, women are beautiful. There’s that voice again. I wonder how many times I have been told that. I wonder how many times the people who told me that men are handsome and girls are pretty were told that by someone else. Does it really matter? They’re just adjectives. They’re just words, right?

I've had the “words matter” fight many times. I've been on both sides. Lately, in the constantly changing and evolving world of toddler language I've fallen down on the side of communication. Communication matters. Did I want to teach her the “difference” between beautiful and handsome? Is that what this moment was about for me -- or more importantly, for her? 

I decided that I wasn't necessarily looking to evaluate the sociological repercussions of reinforcing gender-specific adjectives for beauty in my four-year-old. I decided that my concern wasn't what the difference between handsome and beautiful meant to me within a larger context. I just wanted to know what beautiful meant to her. 

“But honey, what does beautiful mean?” I asked. 

“Uggg!” She was getting frustrated. I knew I couldn't push it too much further. I definitely didn't want to make this a battle, but there is just this part of me that is totally and completely addicted to watching her work her way through these things. I don’t mind where she ends up. I just like to watch her flex.

She widened her eyes again. It was beautiful again.

“Dad, it means you are nice. And you play with me. And we have fun. And I love you. And can I go be Tinkerbell now?”

I suddenly felt one of those teary dad moments coming on. Sure, what she said wasn't the literal definition of beautiful. But in that moment, in that snap shot of her life, it was her definition. It was her moment. Communication achieved. 

“Yes. Of course. I love you too. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome.”

And off she went to jump and land and jump and land and jump and land. 

EDIT: As pointed out by a reader: the exact definition of beautiful: 



having beautypossessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind:
a beautiful dress; a beautiful speech.
excellent of its kind:
a beautiful putt on the seventh hole; The chef served us a beautiful roast of beef.
wonderful; very pleasing or satisfying.

So she was right. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut! Thanks, Lindsay Bandscombe!

P.S. If you're just finding this blog, or you just signed up for Facebook (ha!) be sure to like the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page. I post a bunch of fun, funny, parenting related stuff over there. It's not just a bunch of me writing about how beautiful I am, I promise. 


  1. I've had a similar convo with my son, but it was me telling him it was okay for boys and boy things to be beautiful or pretty. Not sure who it was telling him those words were only for girls. Other than the whole world. :(

  2. Love it! Great post and I am very glad you didn't focus on the "beautiful" but instead in the moment with your little fairy, you are both beautiful indeed :)

  3. This is fantastic. I try really hard to pay attention to the language my wife and I use with our two-year-old son, but I think the questions you asked were absolutely perfect. Definitely an entry in the "Parenting Win" column.

  4. Well, kids don't bother - I'm just so handsome as mommy;) But I and my wife - we know we are the best for our kids.

  5. Sweet man. That's a compliment to appreciate! It's nice that she was ultimately able to explain why she said what she said.

  6. Isn't questioning a compliment one of the classic blunders, on par with going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line?

    Interesting that beautiful, for her, was mostly not about appearance. Any idea where she got that?
    For what it is worth, I make an effort to avoid normative statements about my children's appearance.

  7. The first time I looked at my fiance and told him, "You're so, so beautiful!" He gave me one of his famous looks and shook his head. "No, babe, girls are beautiful. You're beautiful." Unwilling to fight about it yet,I rolled my eyes and laughed and said, "Fine. Fine, fine. You're handsome. But that isn't nearly strong enough a word." My little way of letting him know the fight wasn't quite over, and I'd be at it again. Every few days to weeks thereafter, I said he was handsome, until one day I popped in a "Hello, gorgeous!" He looked exasperated. Shaking his head, he held me close and said "Good morning, beautiful." I grinned. I was tipping the scale. A few days later and there I was again, "Gosh you're beautiful." "Mmmm, and your gorgeous, babe." Yep! I win! I believe the moral is, a lot of us were raised with that distinction in our minds, that variation. It just takes patience and the willingness to teach with kindness and persistence, to unlearn those silly arguments. After all, I can't be the only one who has heard a woman referred to as a "handsome woman", right? He still won't let me call him pretty, though! Hah!