There’s a picture going around social media today, with a quote from Malala Yousafzai’s father:
People ask me what is special about my mentorship that has made Malala so bold and courageous. I tell them, ‘don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all’.
But about a year ago, something I said about my own father made a minor splash over on the site Metafilter.com. Someone started the discussion with a question – he was the new father of a baby girl, and a lot of online tempests over how women are treated had him thinking. He wanted to know what books about feminism he should read to prepare him for raising a daughter.
You don’t have to have a degree in women’s studies or a nuanced understanding of gender politics to raise independent-minded daughters. My father certainly didn’t – he went to trade school instead of college and that kind of theoretical book-study was really not what he was into.
What my father did do, though, was encourage thinking in general. And he let me see that that was something in me that he valued. I’ve talked before about how Dad liked playing devil’s advocate in discussions just for the sake of getting a discussion going – I was actually one of his favorite sparring partners, in fact. I remember when I was in high school and we somehow got going on a conversation on the death penalty one night at dinner, and at one point he said something that just really got me fired up to the point that I forcefully put down the fork I was holding and said one of those “now, HOLD UP a minute” kinds of comments that lets you know that someone’s about to launch into an impassioned statement – and I was surprised to see Dad burst out with a grin like a kid on Christmas and hear him mutter, “oh, I love this.” And that’s when it hit me that Dad was excited to hear what I thought, and valued that I got impassioned about ideas.
My father valued my brain, and let me see that he valued it. He put value on me as a person rather than as a girl, and let me know that. And that’s a big part of what made me a feminist. Reading about gender theory and such can help you wrap your own brain around things, but your daughters may respond much more to having an example of a person who treats them as a whole person.
It wasn’t until sometime after I wrote that that I realized just how valuable that had been for me. Because of him, I have never had to struggle with the self-perception that I had to hide that I was smart because “guys don’t like girls who are smarter than they are”. I have always, from the moment I as born, had a real-life example of a man who valued my brain, and so I have always known that if a man had a problem with my having opinions, it was his problem, not mine. One of the biggest foundations for my becoming a writer was the belief that I actually had something to say in the first place, and one of the biggest foundations for that was having a core belief that I had a brain and that people wanted to hear me.
Last year, I actually mentioned all this to Dad on Father’s Day and I thanked him. And he sounded a bit embarrassed. “Kimmy, it was a treat,” he said (he’s one of the very few people I let call me “Kimmy”). “It wasn’t anything I was trying to do. I just liked finding out how you think.”
“But that’s rare, Dad.”
It was rare. It is rare. And I’m still grateful.
Love ya, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.