June 17, 2016
The other day I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a darling video of a little girl playing basketball with her father. In the comments someone had written, “Too bad he doesn’t have any boys to play with! LOL [annoying emojis].”
Like that little girl’s father, it didn’t matter to my dad if I was a boy or a girl. I was his kid, and he liked having me around. He treated me as an individual. He always involved me in whatever he was doing. I learned to like the things he liked because he let me try them. He never told me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl, or even because I was too little - because he didn’t believe that either of those things mattered.
From the age of two, I would ride along in his golf cart, and I learned to love to play the game too. I grew up watching Notre Dame football. I developed a taste for fancy pens and fast cars. I started reading Sherlock Holmes, still my go-to book when I want to immerse in a world where logic and reason prevail. I learned how to fix things around the house. He let me help out at his law firm - by the time I was 12, I was responsible for preparing and sending out his invoices.
Even though he was an attorney, my dad came home every day at 5:30 and he almost never traveled. When I was a child, I was aware that my mother had stopped out of her career as a journalist to care for me. What I didn’t realize was how much my dad was sacrificing in his career too so that he could coach my teams, help with homework, and just be present in my life. Both of my parents made hard choices between family and work, but they showed me that you could make them in different, equally viable ways.
My dad never paid lip service to feminist ideals. He didn’t have to, because he lived feminist values every single day in the way that he parented me. He treated me with respect. He valued my opinions. He encouraged me to pursue my unique interests and to develop my talents to their fullest potential. And he really paid for it - I was expensive! Acting lessons, a cello, summer camp, tuition to Stanford - all given freely because he believed in me and wanted me to succeed.
My mother set the example for me of the woman I could become - confident, loving, ambitious, generous, aggressive, persevering, kind. But my father nurtured, adored, and supported that development, and put a lot of himself into who I am too. As a girl, I was surrounded by strong women who showed me the way - but I was very fortunate to have a strong man who lit the path. I’ve only just realized that my definition of what makes a man strong has changed.