To My Father, On the Four-year Anniversary of His Death


My father wasn’t born a feminist. Growing up in 1950’s rural Nebraska, he certainly wasn’t one in his childhood or his adolescence. As the youngest of three, he was doted upon by his stay-at-home mother, who treated him like a boy-king and made sure the crusts were always cut off his PB&Js. He didn’t learn feminism in college either, and when he married my mom, at the tender young age of 20, his notions of gender roles in the home were as expected--his wife should clean the house and have dinner on the table when he returned home in the evening.

In short, my father’s notions of the role of women in society were pretty typical for the era. Women were the fairer sex, and sure they should be allowed to get an education if they wanted, but he was still of the mind that “no woman of mine will ever work” when he and my mom got married. But then, his parents stopped paying for things, he was still in college with no marketable skills, and my mom had completed nursing school and had real-world skills that could bring home a paycheck. So suddenly, he had to be okay with a woman bringing home the bacon or else there would be no bacon. But still, he was no feminist. More like a pragmatist, but certainly not a feminist.

And then he had a daughter. Whether he wanted a son is a matter of debate and matters little now anyway. What I do know is that at some point he looked down at this colicky girlbaby in his arms and decided he was going to raise her to be as fearless as any boy. My dad was an incredibly smart man, but I don’t think he’d given gender roles in American society a single thought until he realized he was responsible for raising a girl.

Maybe I’m giving him too much credit. Maybe he just raised me the way that he did because he really did want a boy. Or maybe he raised me the way that he did because it was the only thing he knew--he’d done all the calculations in his head and decided this was simply the best way to raise a child, boy or girl. Who knows?

But I do know that I can’t remember a single time in my childhood or my adult life that he treated me any differently because I was female. Whether it was him making me play Little League baseball with 250 boys instead of softball with all the other little girls like I wanted to, or whether it was the thousands of hours he spent teaching me how to throw a perfect spiral and run patterns on the old football field next to our house, he drilled into me that I was perfectly capable of doing everything and anything little boys could do.

It wasn’t just sports either--it was the way he taught me to stand my ground when I believed I was right about something, it was the way he insisted I take AP science and math courses, even though I fucking hated the subjects, especially math. It was the way he pushed and pushed and pushed me, both academically and in life. It was the way he instilled in me a confidence to speak up, to make myself heard (and boy did I ever make myself heard every chance I got), to think things through critically and logically before making an argument. He clearly did not look at his female progeny and see “less than.” I think I forced him to readjust the way he saw women, which is often the case when men suddenly have a daughter to raise. He looked at me and thought “Well why in the hell can’t she be President of the United States one day?”

And the fact that while he was grinding away at the daily task of raising me, his wife was getting a PhD in Biomedical Ethics from one of the highest learning institutions in the land also likely turned his notions of what women were capable of on its head. Suddenly my father was surrounded by gritty, strong, capable women--one of whom he’d helped shape.

I’m of a mind of all of this on the fourth anniversary of his death because we are in the midst of great turmoil in this country. We have become a country of divisions--defining ourselves now more than ever by our political parties, our religions, our races, our education levels, our geography, our income levels, our sexual orientations, and yes, our genders.

To say that Republicans have been waging a war on women for decades now is a foregone conclusion--there’s too much evidence to argue to the contrary: increasingly more restrictive reproductive laws, high-profile rape cases where men caught in the act of actually raping a woman barely receive jail time, refusal to pass the ERA, the laws coming out of DC now seemingly designed to punish women (burying your aborted tissue anyone?)--the list goes on and on. And now we have a maniacal madman in the office who appears to pass Executive Orders as a means for revenge on groups he feels have been “too mean” to him. His first Monday in office, less than 48 hours after the incredible women’s marches that swept the land, the very first EO he signed had to do with abortion. Think that was an accident? It wasn’t.

Strong women go against the narrow parameters our “president” assigned for us--either as objects that are hot enough to use for his sexual gratification or too ugly and who should be tossed aside because they aren’t good for anything. His small, narrow brain cannot see a human history in which millions of us have contributed to the betterment of humanity, whether it’s female engineers and astronauts, female abolitionists, women in tech inventing technologies that will propel us into the future, or all of the female authors, artists, and musicians who have contributed to the rich tapestry comprising humankind. There is a giant, black hole in the orange man’s brain that prevents him from seeing us as anything but “useable” or “disposable.”

And what we’re seeing now is women of all shapes, sizes, economic classes, races, and religions rejecting that simplified dichotomy. There is a huge resistance mounting against Lord Dampnut, and women are leading the charge.

Pandora’s box has been opened. Women are no longer content to see themselves the way that men like Drumpf see us--in the simplest of terms based on weight, height, hair color, breast size, ass size, and how they look in a skirt. We are 51 percent of the electorate, and we are starting to act like it. That’s not to say that there aren’t still women in America who don’t see themselves as “less than” men, the weaker sex. Or that there aren’t women out there who think “Well, my husband treats me real nice so I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” But there is a growing army of XX-wielding forces who are refusing to define ourselves the way men have defined us for millennia.

And anyone who reads the news on a regular basis knows we’re not there yet. But there is a generation of second- and third-wave feminists who are rising up and taking their places in this world who were, like me, raised by two feminists, who look around and say “I will not accept this bullshit.”

Men have mostly shaped history. They have done all the war-mongering, the raping, the pillaging, the crusading, the slave-trading, the land-grabbing, the killing, the oppressing, the bomb-dropping, and the weapon-wielding in humanity’s short time on earth. (And have reaped the benefits from this behavior as well.) And no offense to men, but y’all have made quite the fucking mess of it. Most of human history has been defined by men’s insecurities and the terrible behaviors that result from those insecurities. And now this is the world we’re stuck with as a result. Maybe it’s a stretch to say that humanity has largely evolved based off the concept of “my dick is bigger than yours,” but it’s not that much of a stretch.

Isn’t it time we gave the ladies a shot?

My dad once said--from his hospital bed, which made it all the poignant--in reply to me telling him I was grateful to him for raising me to believe I could do anything just as well as boys could: “Well, I hope I taught you that you can do them better.”

Me pops. Check out his shirt. 

I’m not sure if we women would be “better” at ruling the world given what an objective term that is, but if females had shaped history, imagine how different humanity would look now. The world needs more compassion, kindness, and empathy than ever before--all traits women typically have in greater amounts than men, whether through genetics or societal conditioning (which is a whole other entry). To be able to govern without the swagger and bravado and to see other countries and the struggles they face with more compassion and empathy is what we need right now. The world is a frightening and, more importantly, a much smaller place now. What we do as a nation has staggering worldwide effects. I, personally, would feel better if more women were involved with running the show all over the globe.

Maybe it’s a pipe dream. We see all the shenanigans it took to keep Hillary out of the White House. The patriarchy will not go quietly into the night. But now America is full of more dads like my dad was--fathers who look at their daughters and say “I will not accept a lesser world for her”; men who, down to their very cores, believe in true equality and will help us fight for it; men who are enlightened, who see our contributions to science, literature, art, mathematics, and business and believe we have an equal role to play in determining the outcome of our planet.

The future is female. If my stubborn old dad saw it, anyone can.

It’s time for us to lead, ladies. Rise up.