"Dad! I'm dying!" There was an echo to my voice because I was looking down into the toilet bowl while yelling. I was 12 years old, and I had no idea what was happening to me—I had never made the toilet water turn red before.
Most girls get their period between ages 10 and 15 years, but every girl's body has its own schedule. Generally, a girl begins menstruating about two years after her breasts start to develop and about six months to a year after she starts to get vaginal discharge. Well, I had no idea of any of the warning signs, nor had I even thought to pay attention to any changes happening to my body—until the day the toilet water turned red.
The topic of periods had come up once or twice in school, but as all pre-teens do in health class, I had laughed it off. But now, alone and terrified in the bathroom, I sure wasn't laughing. I had no idea how to stop the bleeding. I had no clear idea what it all meant. My mom wasn't home yet—not that we'd even had the full puberty talk yet because she assumed I would learn everything I needed to know in school—so there we were, just me and my dad to figure this thing out.
To his credit, my dad immediately came running, skipping steps on his way up to the third floor bathroom. He waved his hand in the doorway and asked me what was happening. By the time I was done describing the horror movie happening in the toilet, he had figured things out and somehow managed to deliver an impromptu Period 101. And I actually listened. Then my dad started to toss feminine products into the bathroom—I must say, he had a pretty good aim for someone who could not see his target. I couldn't tell if he was nervous or if he had been ready for this moment for a while. He sounded like what you might imagine the voice of the For Dummies series of books to sound like—clear and calm—even if he was speaking in a somewhat higher pitched voice than usual and breathing heavily as he tried to recover from the double-stairway climb.
"This is a pad; it is the largest one out of the three and it has wings that you can wrap around your underwear. This is a panty liner, it does the same thing but does not have the wings. And this is a tampon. You have to remove the wrapper and push it out of the plastic."
As I took in my dad's instructions and explanations, all I could think was: How does he know so much?!
Several years on, I've realized he was not necessarily an expert by choice. Ours is a household of mostly women—me, my mom and my sister. And then there's my dad. He had to hear about menstruation a good chunk of the month, and by the time I got my period, it just didn't faze him. Over time he has come to know the schedule: when not to get on our nerves (even though he does not follow through with that all the time) and why I put five scoops of ice cream when I do. He gets it, and as his lucky daughter, I want to make sure that all the menophobic dads out there realize that while they probably can't get on my dad's level, they should bloody well try.
It's so important to learn the basics and be able to talk them over with your daughter—you never know if you'll be the one who's there when her first period arrives. Here's my best advice on how to do it right:
I am not saying you need to create your daughter a period playlist or know all the scientific terminology for her reproductive system. Just be there for her. Listen and reassure her if she sounds scared. Puberty is one of the most uncomfortable stages of life, so your support will mean so much.
Nothing is awkward unless you make it awkward. It is important for dads to be aware of what is going on in their daughters' lives, whether we're talking school, friendships or health—and that includes periods. Don't let the first day of your daughter's period be the first time you ever talk about anything personal with her. If my dad hadn't been so calm and matter-of-fact on the day of my first period, I would have felt even more lost than I already did. I couldn't call my mom—because when I was 12, kids did not have cellphones—so I needed my dad's support and was incredibly grateful that he delivered.
Having feminine products on the top of your shopping list may be frightening for most dads, but it doesn't have to be. Lucky for me, my dad often does the grocery store run and he always makes sure our feminine products are fully stocked at home. This means knowing when to buy them, which to buy and, heck yes, how to carry those boxes around Costco like a BOSS!
Dads are supposed to be fearless, right? So what is up with all the period terror!? We are the ones who have to feel the pain, crave the chocolate that might just make us puke if we don't stop eating bar after bar, and worry about leaving a red puddle behind us everywhere we sit. All you have to do is live with us (and deal with our mood swings, but whatever!). If you look scared, we're only going to feel worse about the whole thing, so Dad up and let us lean on you.
OK, do not get us a three-tiered red-frosted cake or anything, because then we might actually die. But just like you let us know you were happy for us when we lost our first tooth, remember that our first period is another important milestone, so a few kind words would go a long way.
There. That wasn't so hard, was it, dads? Just go with the flow!
This article was originally published online in April 2018.