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A Dad and Gender Roles | Meet My Daughter Carl

My daughter Qiqi is the cutest little girl. Born in China, she is petite but athletic with a sweet smile and beautiful inky black hair.

Just don’t tell her she’s cute. She’ll punch you.

When I first met her, she was a teeny-tiny four-year-old and hated being called cute. Everyone called her cute and that was boring. She wanted to be beautiful.

Today we are living with a tomboy. A couple of years ago she began avoiding colors like pink and purple. Then she wouldn’t wear flowers or sparkles. Those were girly. (You should try buying girl clothes that are not girly, especially in the conservative Midwest like West Michigan.)

She began asking us to buy her boy clothes–mostly grey and blue pants and athletic shirts. Cut for bigger boys, the clothes hang on her but she doesn’t care. She also wears big boots. Her uniform can get pretty ripe, too.

The next step was to cut the hair off. She convinced her mom to cut her long beautiful hair into a pageboy. Qiqi wanted a boy cut like me, but mom drew the line. I sat with our other girl Lourdie as we watched the hair fall away. Lourdie is from Haiti and right now she wants long straight “normal” hair. Lourdie watched it happen and she looked like she wanted to say, “What the heck is she doing?”

Short hair. Boy clothes. No pink. No sparkles. Qiqi  plays with Beyblades and Legos and practices karate. No doubt about it, she’s a tomboy. In fact, her biggest hope is to be mistaken for a boy.

I finally asked mom what caused her to put tomboy into overdrive. Caroline explained that some of the girls in Qiqi’s class were undergoing changes and she was freaking out. She started to explain  . . .

Hold on.

No need to get all “Gray’s Anatomy” on me. That stuff would freak me out, too.

A couple of weeks ago she announced that she wanted to be called Carl.

Hold on.

I said, “Qiqi, you understand you aren’t really a boy. You are a girl.” I am open-minded and love all types of people, but I am not going to let my little girl lock in her identity through sheer force of will. Because, she could if she tried.

This is all very confusing, so I would talk about Qiqi being a tomboy with my friends. They all assure me that it is a phase. Nothing to worry about. All women seem to think they go through a tomboy stage.

Then I mention that she wants to be called Carl. They respond quickly, “Oh, she’ll be fine.” Like she has an illness. I know she will be fine, even if she grows up to be Mr. Carl one day. She’s not sick. If she changed her name to Cathy people wouldn’t act so weird.

I end up defending her sometimes quirky decisions because I am her dad, even though I am not happy with some of them. It is strange indeed to have a child who is experimenting with identity and enjoying tormenting her parents.

It would be so easy to buy a sweet Hello Kitty dress for her to wear. But that would not be Qiqi. And I would not be her father.

How do other parents handle these explorations of identity and clothing? I’d like to hear.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]


[author_info]About the Author

Steven de Polo is a Prime Parents’ Club regular contributor and father of three daughters. He dislikes long division and the idea that his princesses may start dating before they reach the age of 40. You can find more of Steven’s work at
Steven de Polo is 44 years old and lives in Grand Rapids, where he works in foundation relations at Grand Valley State University. Steven is divorced and has been in a long-term relationship with his girlfriend, with whom he is raising an 9-year-old girl adopted from China and a 5-year-old girl from Haiti. His Jamaican-American stepdaughter works in New York City and plans to get her CPA license. Steven enjoys being a dad, especially the trips to the comic book store and getting barbecue spare ribs. He dislikes long division and the idea that his princesses may start dating before they reach the age of 40. He supports Kids Food Basket and is on the board of the Local First Educational Foundation.


  1. Margaret

    January 5, 2012 at 6:57 am

    I am impressed by you and your wife’s introspection and thoughtfulness about Qiqi and how she wants to define herself. I know I’d be feeling much as you do and it is hard but I’d likely sit back and let things take their course for the time being.

    It sounds as if your family communicates extraordinarily well, which to my mind, is one of the most important elements to healthy relationships. Kudos to you and your wife!

  2. Steven

    January 4, 2012 at 9:01 am

    Thanks for the comments. She doesn’t seem distressed by her experimenting so counseling is not an issue right now. She has never had a problem expressing herself. It’s more distressing for the parents. Mom is a counselor, which is good and bad when it is your own kid. We’ll stay aware and see how things go as she matures.

  3. Becki

    January 4, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I am not a parent. But I found this really interesting because I took a women’s studies class where we mostly discussed gender identity. We read a lot about children who knew from an early age that they didn’t feel right in their own body.

    Honestly from all of the reading I have done I would have her start counseling. Not to blow it out of proportion if it is just a phase, but so that she maybe has a safe place to work out if it is just a phase or not. And if it is a phase maybe there is something deeper going on that she is afraid to talk to her parents about. Or maybe she is just a typical kid that just likes to be creative. No matter what the reason, counseling can’t hurt and if there is something more going on you may be able to help her work through it and understand it early on.

    Again, I’m not a parent, but that is my two cents.

  4. Prime Parents' Club

    January 4, 2012 at 8:21 am

    This is a tough one because exploration is what childhood is all about, so it’s hard for a parent to know if this is just a “phase” or if it is something the child is truly interested in. (Some days my daughter makes me call her Kristine–which is *not* her name. Some days she only lets me refer to her as a puppy and makes me pat her on the head.)

    I’m curious, have you guys had any body change talks with her since she’s seeing those changes in some of her friends? (You know, “the talk”?) I’m wondering also if she thinks she’s a boy that she won’t have to go through those scary girl changes? (Because, dude, they are totally scary.)

    I would probably see a child psychologist–not because I wanted to change her, but because I would want to know how to best SUPPORT her.

    Your daughter is lucky to have such a caring dad.


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