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One Dad’s Journey Through First Periods

Frank Ligtvoet

Frank (1954) worked in international publishing in Amsterdam until he moved in 1996 to New York to become director cultural affairs at the Royal Embassy of the Netherlands. Since 2001 he has worked as a freelance writer. He lives with his husband of 35 years, Nanne, in Brooklyn and they have two kids: Josh (2004) and Rosa (2006).

I am sixty-three now and until I was fifty-two I didn’t have any idea about the intimate workings of the female body. When I was seven, I played with my friend Miriam on the swampy grassland of a peninsula in a lake close to my school in my hometown. She had to pee and half hidden behind reed, close to the water, she asked me to watch. My first breast I saw around the same time. It was winter and my mother and I stayed with my grandmother in the South of Holland. We shared the same big bed and, woken up by the noises my mother made when she entered the bedroom, where I already had slept for some hours, I saw in the mirror opposite the bed how my mother took off her bra.

Both memories, which betray the lateral, biblical gaze toward what is forbidden to be seen, emerged only when I and my husband brought our just born adopted daughter Rosa to her new home in New York City for the first time, a home with an older brother and two fathers — and no mother. After she was examined by the visiting female pediatrician, I asked somewhat uncertain: "How do you clean a vagina?" I had no idea. She laughed a little and with a wet, lukewarm towel she demonstrated how to do it. 'Wipe from front to back. Do not rub. The whitish discharge is just fine, and no soap,’ she said. 'And use this cream if her labia gets red.'

Now that our daughter is 11, I have been initiated. She has had her first periods. With the support of female friends — 'help us, we know what happens, but have no idea it feels' — she was well prepared. They bought sanitary napkins and sports bras with her. I bought a beautiful deep blue transparent water bottle. But now, a few months later, we have to do it alone. In the drugstore I am in line for the cash register with a colorful package 'Always Radiant Infinity Pads With Wings'. Sometimes I get a comment. ‘My boyfriend would never buy that for me.’ I downloaded an app on my iPhone and every month a message pops up when her period is to be expected.

My independence in this new world grew quickly: in the subway I saw ads for beautiful black underwear, specially made for the first and last phase of menstruation and as extra protection when the bleeding is at its strongest. Without consulting our female friends I ordered the hiphugger model online, and when our daughter turned out to be happy, with it two more. The backend system of the underwear company does not know that I am a man and I receive every now and then from a certain Mia a blogpost by email about the intimate life of women. I am — albeit totally theoretically — gradually becoming a pro in the realm of ​​vaginas, periods and 'female sexual health'. What I can reasonably discuss with our daughter, I bring up. Not so much the post: ‘We chat with sex workers about their periods.’ But for sure: ‘Fight like a girl, bleed like a boss.’ Or: 'Does swimming on your period attract sharks?' And I pick and choose from a blog with the following topics: '5 questions you need to ask your Ob/Gyn' and 'Survival tips for you and your V this holiday season'. Sometimes we talk seriously; sometimes — when it concerns sharks  — we laugh out loud. I feel like a real motherly father during those most often very short conversations. And I think our daughter appreciates it.

Is it a bit pathetic to say that Mia's e-mails have enriched me and that I believe that all husbands and all fathers of daughters - and not the women themselves – should order that underwear, so that they also receive Mia's e-mails and get educated? Well, if that is pathetic, I just don’t care.

This article originally appeared in Argus, a print magazine in Holland.

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