The other night at my house, I taught my boyfriend how to use a menstrual pad. His daughter, who just turned 12, had been complaining about stomach cramps. “Maybe she’s getting her first period,” I suggested.
My boyfriend didn’t blink. He just asked if I had any products on hand, in case she did get her period while she was at my place.
“So this seems very thin but it works,” I explained, unwrapping a pad: “You take these sticky things off and wrap them around the underwear.” Did he want me to explain it to his daughter? I asked. He said he’d do it. We went downstairs where he proceeded to hold the pad up like a trophy and made sure his daughter knew how to use it. He wasn’t embarrassed at all. His daughter wasn’t embarrassed at all. He put one in her purse. I admit I was kind of embarrassed. But I was also impressed.
These days, maybe because fathers are more active in their children’s lives, or because many of them act more like friends to their children, wanting to know every detail of their feelings or school dramas, talking about female hygiene products is no longer a big deal. A male friend of mine, who works in finance on Toronto’s Bay Street, tells me his daughter calls him at work almost every month asking him to stop on his way home and pick up tampons.
Call it “dads and pads.” Take Richard Miller, whose daughter Rachel got her first period (three years ago) while his wife was away on business. (Sadly, his wife died in 2009.) “Rachel called me at work and told me the ‘good news,’ ” says Miller. “I knew this was an important time in her life,” and he knew how he handled it would also be important.
He headed to Shoppers Drug Mart. Once there, he admits he was “very confused” by all the choices available. “So I simply did what any confused but well-meaning father would do,” he says.
That is, he purchased more than $50 worth of feminine hygiene products. “Mini, maxi, overnight, tampons. You name it, I bought it,” he laughs. “Normally, my frugal genes would have gotten in the way, but this was my daughter’s first period and she would remember this event, and one day tell her daughter about it. I simply couldn’t screw it up.”
When his wife came back from her trip, Miller says, she had a “lot of laughs at my expense over all the stuff I bought.” But, he adds, his daughter “was just happy to have a parent take care of the situation.” Since then, he’s never had a problem going into any store for what he calls “a run.”
Online, a posting from one teenage girl appears under the heading, “How to ask my dad to buy me tampons.” The girl’s parents are divorced, she writes, and she’d confided in her mother that she’d started her period, but not her father. Her problem was she was at her dad’s place and still had two more days to go and had run out of tampons. One response to the posting was, “Don’t worry. I went through the same thing. Just try not to make it awkward even if you feel that way. Just walk in the room when your dad is alone and say, ‘Hey Dad, I need some tampons, can we go pick some up real quick?’ This is a little out of his area, too, so if you don’t act awkward about it, he won’t feel so awkward.” Another poster advised, “He’s a man, but he was a husband once, so he’ll know what you mean if you tell him you need to go to the store to buy some feminine products.”
Gary Champagne of Ottawa, who has a teenage daughter, says he does have a hard time buying tampons, but not because he doesn’t want to. He’s still traumatized from the first time he bought tampons for his wife. “I couldn’t find the specific brand and type. Several clerks had to help and it was announced over the PA system in the store that a ‘guy in the feminine hygiene aisle needs help.’ ”
Other dads (or their daughters) may be uncomfortable with the idea, even though many husbands will go on tampon runs for their wives. “We have sent him out to get some for me,” says Mara Rubinoff Shapiro, “but not for our daughter. He pretends she doesn’t menstruate!”