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Thank Heaven for Little Girls
Daughters are a father's joy - except when it's time to play ball. By James Lang

This past fall I stepped out on the front stoop one morning to pick up the mail and waved across the street to my neighbor, who was washing his car in the driveway. He paused, gave me a funny look, and then broke into laughter. I was still puzzling over this reaction when another neighbor drove by on the street, and as she passed our house and looked at me, I saw a widening grin on her face.

I only realized the reason for their mirth an hour later, when I passed a mirror in our living room and noticed that I was wearing a glitter-encrusted princess tiara on my head.


One Dad. One Mom. And three daughters: a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old and a 1-year-old. Three very active imaginations. One box full of dress-up clothes — mostly gifts from well-meaning grandparents — which includes crowns and tiaras, feather boas, lacy gowns, fancy dress shoes, beaded necklaces, scarves, and fairy wands and wings.

You do the math.

I have given up trying to escape the royal trappings of princess dress-up games that invariably end up, at some point in the afternoon, draped all over me. I hardly even notice them anymore.

I used to protest that the game needed a prince or a knight, dressed in suitably manly attire. They weren’t buying that. Call yourself whatever you want, they told me — as long as you still wear the feather boa.

I’m lucky, everyone tells me. Friends and siblings who have both boys and girls almost universally assure me that girls are easier to raise — at least before they start dating.

And I do appreciate my daughters. As a writer, I appreciate that it’s more socially acceptable in our culture for girls to love literature, to write poetry, to draw and paint, to imagine. As a human being,

I appreciate that my daughters won’t have to endure the silly macho rituals that thrive in places like the boys’ gym locker room. And as a father, I appreciate the fact that physical signs of their affection for me, like hugs and kisses, will probably continue longer than they would for boys.

And it goes without saying that I wouldn’t trade the three of them, gender and all, for anyone or anything in the world.

Every once in a while, though, I will see the neighbor’s boy throwing a football around, and I will sprint across the street, grab the ball and tell him to go long.
This summer I was spending time with my older daughters and one of their friends at a neighbor’s house, and I noticed the baseball glove of my neighbor’s 5-year-old son on the ground near where he was playing. I sidled over and started pleading with him to play catch with me.

“Just one game of catch, Gerald? Please?”

“No thanks, Mr. Lang. I just finished playing with my Dad. Maybe later.”

“Maybe after dinner? For just 10 minutes?”

“Sure, Mr. Lang. Maybe after dinner.”

Of course I have done my best to engage my daughters in these sporting activities. But their hearts are not into it — when they do condescend to throw the ball around with me or to take a few swings, they give off the distinct air of indulging an overexcited child.

Is it silly to feel the slightest twinge of envy for Gerald’s father? To want to relive my childhood sports fantasies of tossing the winning touchdown pass to the son I don’t think I’ll ever have? Are these desires important enough that I will end up like one of my parents’ friends, who kept trying until he and his wife finally gave up after four girls?

If it were up to me alone — maybe. But it’s not. And it doesn’t look good.

Last year, as we walked out of the ultrasound for our third daughter, after learning that we were having another girl, I put my hand on my wife’s shoulder and said, as brightly and enthusiastically as I could:

“I guess we’re having four.”

The response was not encouraging: “Ha!”

James M. Lang (G97) teaches English at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. He is the author of Learning Sickness: A Year with Crohn’s Disease (Capital Books, 2004).

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