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Time For That Time Of The Month
One Dad's Struggle (and excellent advice)
On The Unmentionable

By Jim Nowogrocki

Among the errands of my boyhood, I remember one that always followed the moon. My mother would write a note in pencil. "Just hand it to the lady behind the counter at Nick's Delicatessen," she'd instruct, folding it in half. And I did. Without a word, the woman at Nick's would place something in a brown paper bag and take my money.

I'd skipped out the front door and back home, completely oblivious to the Kotex sanitary napkin package cradled like a football in my arms. Since then, menstrual cycles have remained somewhat of a mystery, hidden from view, a "lady thing."

While my daughters-four of them-were young, I spent many nights applying vapor rub, dishing out spoonfuls of various medicines, putting on bandages, comforting aching hearts. But even after so may years of being involved in caring and curing, this new stage of "having a period" split that familiar terrain like a 7.0 tremor on the Richter Scale. For the first time, I felt an uncomfortable distance from my teen's struggle with changing body, her peers, herself.

To top off matters, most young daughters themselves are squeamish about the onset of menstruation. They all know the day will arrive, but when and how and what will it be like?

How does a dad fit in the new stage of bleeding, tampons, pads? Are first periods off limits for a father? I didn't want to be left "holding the bag" I carried for my mother. Yet, dads cannot get by with experience on this development.

So when my wife relayed that seventh graders were starting their periods, comparing breast sizes (already), I seized the moment to try the comparing approach.

Treading back along difficult waters of my own seventh grade experience of not yet having pubic hair, I remembered those excruciating moments, not wanting to shower after gym class, painfully embarrassed of my own body.

I wanted my daughter to know. We took a walk around the block.

"I can't say that much about a woman's body because I'm not a woman," I started out of nowhere, barely able to make eye contact. I felt her absorbing. We tried to find a comfortable spot for our relationship. "Even so," I continued. "Boys also develop at varying rates. Focus on what's inside, your heart and mind."

"OK, Dad,' she answered, allowing me to state my case.

That was about all I could come up with.

That night, after the kids were in bed, my wife confided that our daughter laughed a lot about the "I'm not a woman..." line. And that gave me hope-at least she was listening. My words landed where I aimed them in the first place.

But what else can a father do to be involved without going over the line?

* Get some books.
The Period Book, by Karen Gravelle & Jennifer Gravelle is a good start, covering the basics of physical changes, bleeding, feminine hygiene products. This allows a daughter to learn in the privacy of her own puberty. It'll also give you, the dad, some insight into what's going on and what your daughter may be thinking about it. If you are a solo dad, ask a trusted female friend to offer suggestions or, perhaps, even to have a girl-to-girl chat with your daughter.

* Be prepared.
For many girls, it may be difficult to actually insert a tampon in their vaginas at first, so make sure to keep your daughter's bathroom stocked with some junior pads too. (You'll also need pads just in case you happen to be home alone with your daughter when she begins bleeding for the first time-tampons are a definite no-no.) Open the box beforehand and read the instructions yourself-you might find yourself having to explain them. Tampons are out for the first time

* Be supportive.
Dr. Randall Flanery, a psychologist with the Department of Community and Family Medicine of St. Louis University School of Medicine says, "A father needs to communicate that these changes are natural and healthy without getting into all the nitty, gritty details. Have a positive attitude about it. Indicate to your daughter that you're confident she'll get through this stage and you'll get through it, too." After that, let your daughter set the pace for approaching or discussing periods and menstrual cycles.

The era of shopping for mysterious packages is past. Now, my fatherly contribution is reinforcing a daughter's strong self image and inner strength so she is better prepared for the exterior changes which are well beyond her control. Period.

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