Saturday, May 20, 2017

Raising strong women and my father's contribution to that

I sometimes wonder if my father knew what he was doing when he sat at the dinner table together with me after dinner, discussing the world news and debating with me about different topics of interest. I was a teenager at that time, in high school, and we did much of the same in our history and sociology classes. So it only felt natural to extend this behavior to the home arena. It was considered a sign of intelligence to be interested in society, in politics, in the life around you. It was considered a sign of intelligence to have a reasoned opinion about some of the important events that were happening around us, and important to impart that opinion in a reasonable manner. I credit my father with teaching me that it was important to use your brain, to use logic, to use reason, in order to argue and debate with others. He was no fan of the bully approach, and would probably have coined the phrase ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ if it hadn’t already been coined before him. He was a great reader, as I’ve written about in this blog before. An intelligent man, an intellectual, a peace-loving man who was uncomfortable with raw conflict. He had served in WWII and lived to tell about it. I know he was proud to have served his country, but he was no war-monger. When the Watergate scandal broke, he and I watched the drama unfold on TV and watched the Watergate hearings (1973-74) together. We discussed it all, from all sides. His requirement for discussions and debates was that we used logic and reason, not just feelings, to present our opinions. He was not the kind of man that tolerated utterances such as ‘he’s an asshole’ or ‘what a jerk’ as interesting contributions to a discussion, even though we both might have felt that way about certain politicians at the time. And so I learned from him that discussion, debate and even arguments had their place in daily life. Conflict and differences of opinion were part of life; it was how you handled them that mattered. He was not perfect, and even he at times could opine about his feelings rather than his thoughts on certain matters. Then I reminded him of what he had taught us. He was not afraid to tell me when my arguments didn’t hold water, and that infuriated me, enough so that I could storm away from the dining room table, but I retreated and did my homework and came back stronger the next time. He wanted facts, logic, reason and a civil manner on top of it all. God love him for it. He helped to create strong, independent-thinking, and rational women (me and my sister) who are proud of their intelligence and talents. I think he did that because he knew what we would face in the world. I wish he was still alive, because I know he would have discussed the role of women with me now, in 2017, and how terrible it is that the current president and his cronies want to return women to a time when their opinions and wishes did not matter. He would have been appalled at the language that the president uses about women, and appalled that the world had come to this point where women were reduced to objects, to be abused and attacked, bullied and mocked. He would have deplored the state of the world in 2017.

I bring up my father because I believe the world needs more men like him. He was ahead of his time, in so many ways. He was one of the first men I knew who would absolutely have preferred to spend more time with his children and less time at the office. He had a good career as chief technical librarian for a number of companies, but he never brought his work home with him. He never spent evenings immersed in work projects that could wait until the next day. He never complained about how busy he was or how little time he had for everything. He was a family man and he made time for his family. His evenings were spent talking to us about the world, helping us with homework, and testing us in preparation for exams the next day. He and my mother bought me my first microscope set at one of the science fairs in our local grammar school. My father would patiently sit with me as we looked at slides of amoebas and diatoms together. He was as interested as I was in the natural world, but he could not keep up with me once I immersed myself in science as a career. But he was proud of me and proud of my endeavors. He called me at work once to tell me that he loved me, and I never forgot that. He would clip out articles from the newspaper and send them to me (my mother did the same)—science-related and literature-related. Because after science, it is world literature that interests me. That is in my genes from both my parents. My father was interested and involved in our lives and God bless him for it. If your father is the first man who teaches you about men, I’m glad that he was the man who taught me what a good man is. I used to tell him he was cute, and that made him happy—he would smile that little smile he had (my mother said he had a particular way of pursing his lips). I never left my parents’ house without telling them that I loved them. Because I knew that my father could disappear from my life at any moment due to his poor health. Unfortunately, I made my mistakes when it came to choosing men to share my life with, as have many others. A failed first marriage was the result. Even then, my father was supportive. I remember walking around our neighborhood, he with his cane to steady himself after a stroke he had had, and we talked about my unhappy marriage and what to do about it. He and I both knew that it would never improve. He understood what it would cost me to divorce my first husband, and he understood that my life would never be the same. Sadly, he didn’t live to witness my divorce nor did he get the chance to meet my current husband. But I know that he wished (and wishes) me well, in that universe of parallel lives where he lives now, perhaps as a healthy man. I hope so. I do know that he is still a loving one. 

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