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How Not to Buy a Bra for Your 11-Year-Old

My daughter wanted me to take her bra shopping. I was honored and terrified.

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It’s not every day that a guy needs to buy a bra. 

I’d been a single dad for just over two years and thought I had things well in hand when my incredibly cute, 11-year-old blonde, blue-eyed daughter, Mary, calmly sat down on the coffee table opposite me one beautiful Saturday evening and announced…

“Dad, I need a bra!”

I was grateful that my teeth were firmly connected to my mouth: As my jaw dropped, a loose-fitting set of dentures would have left my gaping mouth and crashed to the floor.

Dad, I need a bra. The words reverberated in the room like a ping-pong ball in a shaken jar. Five words is all it took for my little girl to burst my safe daddy bubble and take our relationship to a whole other level. 

Breathe deeply, I said to myself as I looked at my baby in her cut-off shorts and size-nothing T-shirt. I was without words. I mean, what the hell can a father say to an opening line like that?

This story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

“Dad, I need a bra,” she repeated.

My skin had turned a clammy shade of pale as I unthinkingly blurted out, “For what?” Now, in retrospect, I can tell you with complete confidence that that was not the perfect response. As I tried to regroup, my tiny little daughter calmly pointed to two completely flat areas on her chest, one on each side of her T-shirt’s bright yellow smiley-face design, and simply said, “see?”

I am a grown-up, and I knew that behind that smiley face, there were parts that, in time, would develop, of course. I just thought it would be a little farther down the road. I was a divorced, single father, and there was a mother out there who I know had purchased bras in the past. Why my daughter came to me is still a mystery — it was gratifying, yes, but a mystery nonetheless.

Today, 20 years after the bra debacle and knowing her edgy sense of humor, I have a feeling she was testing me — setting me up to see what I would do. But at the time, I needed a plan. Oh Lord, I needed a plan. I hardly got any sleep that night pondering “the plan.” I’d removed a few bras in my day (or at least tried my best to), but buying one is a whole different thing.

It was a long night, but by morning, I had the perfect plan. After a breakfast of Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes, we saddled up and headed out into the great unknown: the bra section at our local Target. Why Target, you might ask? I reasoned that any decent Target would have a few bras for sale. I also figured that Sunday morning was a quiet time of late family breakfasts, collegiate hangovers, and the faithful attending church. I was betting on an empty store, a fast fitting, and an unseen getaway. Good plan, right?

As planned, we were the first to enter the store and we headed straight for the ladies section. Making our way past the makeup aisles, I thought a little conversation was in order, just to break the tension — my tension, that is — and so I asked, “So, sweetie, exactly what kind of bra are we looking for today?”

She didn’t hesitate as she casually responded, “one of those push-up ones, Daddy…the ones with the underwire.” 

Umm.

“Ya know,” I said casually, “I think we should look at a nice cotton sports bra, don’t you?” She said nothing as we continued on, through the lace undies and into the bra section. We made it unseen, thank God, but were now confronted by a staggering assemblage, an eye-popping potpourri of female breast support apparatuses. A guy gets two options when it comes to his support apparatus: cup or no cup. That’s it, simple. This, on the other hand, took choice to a whole other level.

We pressed on, passing the Victoria Secret-looking lace offerings and the pointy Viking-like contraptions, some large enough to feed and water a Clydesdale. It took some looking, but we finally found the cotton sports bras, which, I interpreted, was the starter section. Compared to the bras we just passed, these were so small they looked like apparel for an American Girl Doll. We pressed on.

“So, what size do you need, sweetie?” She gave me her best “I don’t know” shoulder shrug. But I had a plan.

“Okay,” I said, kneeling down behind the display and using my softest voice, as if speaking really, really quietly would make me invisible. “So, here’s what we’re gonna do.” I picked out a little white cotton sports thing and started putting it on over her smiley-face T-shirt. I figured that if it fit, we’d buy one size smaller and be on our way. Good plan, right?

But we struggled to get the thing on over her shirt. She started giggling. I started sweating. This was a father-daughter moment for the ages, a moment that has been told and retold many times throughout the years — just not the moment I‘d planned on her recounting so often.

As Providence would have it, someone up there must have been watching and sent in the cavalry, in the form of the friendly voice of a woman from our neighborhood: “What in heaven’s name are you two doing down there?” She came around the end of the display towards us. Still in my crouching position and now sweating profusely, I clumsily tried to explain the plan but was interrupted by my little girl: “I need a bra.”

“Come with me, child,” was all that kindly woman said, as the two of them walked off, leaving me wet and alone on the cold, waxed linoleum floor.

They exited the ladies dressing room several minutes later with a selection of little cotton thingies, which I joyously paid for without looking at them. After that morning, the neighbor often smiled warmly  at me when we passed on the street, thinking more highly of me, I’m sure, because of my efforts that day on the floor of the bra section in Target.

Mary is now 33 and, thank you lord, is buying her bras without my help. I know that somewhere in Target’s Security Department, there are men, other fathers, who have seen my bra-buying efforts on some video recording and have played it over and over again, laughing themselves silly, all the while giving thanks that it wasn’t them down there on the floor that morning with their little girl.

For me, I wouldn’t have missed the moment for anything.

Brooklyn-born Daniel Ginsberg has been a Military Policeman/Criminal Photographer for the U.S. Army, a New York fashion photographer, a reproductive physiologist working in artificial insemination research, and a secondary science and photography teacher. He lives in Denver, where he writes, paints, and sculpts.