One of my earliest memories of my father is of me when I was probably three or four years old sitting on the edge of the tub talking nonstop while my father shaved. He never said much; in fact, I doubt he had a chance. But he was a willing sounding board to the imaginations and ideas of his little girl. And while he wasn’t the kind of father who spent hours giving me advice or lecturing me, his quiet support has been a great bulwark of support many a time when I had self-doubts as a grown woman.
I recently overheard a father chiding his little girl to get down from the wall she was climbing, telling her that girls don’t do that. It occured to me that in a generation where gender bias was alive and well, I never heard those words come out of my dad’s mouth. Whether it was me wanting a newspaper route like my older brother or him finding me high in a tree in my skirt reading a book, he never scolded me for not “acting like a girl”. In fact, the only time I remember him really ranting about anything to do with me being a girl was when he was struggling to pack our car for a road trip with clothes for a family of five only to discover that one entire suitcase was filled with nothing but my shoes. He said a few choice words about the fact that he only owned two pair of shoes and that no one needed more shoes than the number of days we were going to be gone. He had a point, but, really, how does a teenage girl know what shoes she’ll need to wear 1500 miles away?
When I started college, my advisor steered me into teaching rather than pursuing my dream of being a writer, telling me that a news room was no place for a nice woman. That was in 1984, and it is still hard for me to believe that there were men who thought that way in the 80’s. But I was young and scared of making mistakes, and so despite my dad telling me that he didn’t care what I did, just as long as it was what I wanted to do, I chose the safer path and hated every class. I loved kids, but the thought of being a teacher just somehow filled me with dread. And years later when I did become a writer, I knew I should have followed my heart and not the advice of some man in a small cubicle who thought nice girls didn’t belong in a room full of reporters.
I think of all the things I did as a girl growing up when my father could have told me girls don’t do that, and he didn’t. He never told me that girls didn’t chase lizards in an empty field or pet horned toads or climb trees. He never said that girls didn’t need an education if all they were going to do was get married and have kids. He didn’t say girls shouldn’t strive to do well in school. I realize now what an impact this had on me; there was very little I didn’t think was possible from the time I was a little girl.
But come to think of it, there was one thing he was firm on – girls did not call boys first. He was implacable on that one, and even when boys started calling the house, he was a bit stern with them. He didn’t like that they were interested in his girl, and he made sure they knew he was watching them.
I meet my parents often now for breakfast and tell them about how things are going with my company, and they often tell me how proud they are of me. I couldn’t have made it in the early days of starting my company without them. They believed in me, not only in words but with early investing, and I don’t know of any bigger risk than throwing money at some project your kid thinks is a good idea. They didn’t understand mobile or really anything about what I was aiming to do, but they believed in me, their daughter. Many a night when I doubted myself, their belief and investment in my company kept me going.
Recently my parents came to our company’s open house, and as my father looked around the room filled with other investors, clients and colleagues, he smiled and squeezed my shoulder. “You’ve done good,” he said.
Coming from my dad, that is high praise indeed.