A Dad's View: Nature or nurture

A Dad's View 14: The difference between boys and girls

Are boys and girls fundamentally different? Tom Dunmore has his own take on the nature or nurture debate

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Ava is demanding another costume change. It's taken 20 minutes to find her Minnie Mouse tights but now they've started to itch. I'm feeling fairly itchy myself.

We're meant to be meeting friends for lunch, but we're minutes away from missing our booking. 'Why don't you wear these?' I ask through clenched teeth, holding up some white tights.

'They're not pink!' She pulls a face of such disgust that you'd think I'd suggested she wore one of Erik's nappies.

'Not everything can be pink,' I sigh. 'Not for boys, only for girls' agrees Ava. 'Just put some leggings on, then,' I suggest. I've no idea why, but this is the final straw.

Ava throws herself on the bed, sobbing, 'I'M NOT GOING!' 'Fine,' I say, shoving the boy into a pair of dungarees and carrying him under my arm like a log. 'I'm off.' I make it halfway down the garden path before turning around. Beaten by my four-year-old. Again.

Erik is showing none of these manipulative traits that Ava so successfully uses to control her parents. He'll happily beat me over the head with a wooden block, but Ava knows how to inflict far more painful torture. By the time she could walk, Ava had already mastered the art of slamming doors when she was upset. One day she tried it in the bathroom and, thanks to the missing door handle, I couldn't get her out again. The only access was up a ladder and through a first-floor window.

Unfortunately, I misjudged my own girth – it can happen when you spend too long around little people – and I found myself stuck halfway through. I ended up having to shout directions to a smirking Ava, who calmly made her exit while I waited for my wife Lise to prise me free. When my friend Neil tells me he's about to embark on the great indignity of parenthood, I ask the predictable question: 'Boy or a girl?' 'We're not finding out. It'll be a surprise!'

I'm tempted to say that, when the birth comes, there will enough surprises without having to worry about your child's gender. But he's bouncing up and down with excitement and I don't want to spoil his fun.

Neil lives in a big house in one of those leafy London suburbs that styles itself as a village, so no child of his is going to go hungry.

In some ways, gender matters less these days – despite the national obsession with Kate and William's firstborn, it'll be third in line to the throne whether it's a girl or a boy. But when I was young I made the mistake of thinking that girls and boys are essentially the same creatures, moulded by society to fulfill different roles.

Now, as a father of a girl and a boy, I realise my mistake. Ava is sweet as a berry, but oh-so- complex: physically strong but always seconds away from bursting into tears because she sees a spider or brushes her arm against a wall.

Erik, by contrast, is straightforward. At 14 months he loves to hit things with hammers and brandishes a broom like a sword. And yesterday, as if to prove the rhyme What Are Little Boys Made Of? right, we found him sucking on a snail. The snail was ok – though I fear Ava, who witnessed the whole thing, may be scarred for life.

 

Read Tom's next column here

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