I can clearly see my young self standing in front of the mirror, my expression reflecting my worry that my dad was not going to get this right. We were getting ready for my Saturday morning rec basketball game and my long hair needed to be tied back. I'm sure my dad was just as nervous, as I was anything but an easy client. My childhood motto was “no bumps.” After all, although I didn’t realize it at the time, I was an aspiring obsessive-compulsive perfectionist. Only the smoothest tresses worked for this little lady. To his (enormous) credit, he gave it an impressive effort every time, doing his best to gather my hair neatly, smooth the top and tie the elastic ever so carefully.
Encased in this simple act of love is my understanding and definition of femininity. My dad had three daughters and he raised us with this beautiful balance of honor and respect for all things female and unapologetic encouragement and praise for all things ‘self’. There were never any limits placed on what he believed we could accomplish. Whether it was rocking the perfect ponytail or crushing the three pointers at the game, he was, and continues to be, this gentle presence cheering us forward toward our best self.
A close friend and fellow blogger recently asked me to read a draft she had written on the subject of feminism and specifically, the popular war cry, “the future is female”. It was an honor to be asked and launched a discussion between us that led me to a very important realization - I need to thank my dad for smoothing out the bumps and helping me grow into a woman who wouldn’t necessarily identify as a feminist - at least - in the sense that I have not been left at war with the brilliance of God’s design, nor am I chained by feelings of inferiority. As privileged as this may sound (because I get it, it really is); it is hard to fight for something you were never without.
Don’t get me wrong. I most certainly believe in equal rights. I fully understand the deep debt owed to my foremothers for securing the most basic of rights I now take for granted. I’m not blind to the immense and critical work still left to be done. And I realize even my deepest sympathy is the cheapest balm for the persecution, abuse and other horrors inflicted on our sex. We are, if nothing else, a product of our experiences and for too many of my sisters, the wounds are deep. So deep, I fear that many, understandably, are left robbed of the beauty and God-given honor of all things female.
For respecting my need to rock the perfect ponytail, and then expecting full focus on the game once my feet hit the court.
For sharing in my excitement when Santa brought yet another Barbie doll and for always making sure he threw a Hot Wheel or John Deere under the tree too.
For sitting with me at the kitchen table for hours on end while I struggled through homework assignments and for never, ever (I mean, once or twice would have been nice) giving me the answer. I may have left the table in tears, but I knew my dad truly believed I could find the answer on my own.
For making sure I knew how to check the oil when you knew I mostly cared about how I looked when I drove away.
For letting me cry. And for getting me “a cold face cloth to wipe my tears” when it was time to move on.
For bringing Mom flowers, spoiling her with jewelry and for washing the floors and helping with the laundry.
For never missing the opportunity to tell me I looked nice and for ensuring I felt just as strong as I did beautiful.
For believing I could be the next woman to walk on the moon and for making it clear you would be just as proud if I chose to be the next woman to walk down the runway.
For showing me the kind of man I wanted - and deserved - to marry.
For standing by my bedside in tears as I held your first grandchild, in the sweetest affirmation of the beauty of life and such pride for the great honor and privilege God has bestowed on women.
For praying the rosary with your family and trusting your deepest intentions to the woman that changed history through just the right balance of humility and outrageous courage.
Thanks Dad, for smoothing out the bumps you could and for giving me all I needed to navigate those you couldn’t.