Girls Don’t Do That

200531_10150123792089383_6399271_nOne 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.

 

My Dad: taking a walk down memory lane

Dad and Mom as newlyweds

So I’ve started this sentence a dozen times, and each time I get halfway through and then start hitting the backspace until there is once again a clean slate. It’s hard to even know where to begin when trying to describe what I feel about a father. Words really can’t express what I feel, but if I had to choose one word, I’d have to say my father made me feel safe.

And that’s really something.

Now that I’m a mother with two grown children and one almost into his teens, I’ve learned just how unstable and challenging life can be. Jobs can suddenly disappear. Diseases can rear their ugly head when you least expect it. Relationships become strained and even fall apart. And attempting to keep an even keel, a positive place for your children to flourish in the midst of all that life throws your way – that’s one daunting task.

Yet my father did it with grace. He was one of the hardest working men I’ve ever known. He rose before the crack of dawn in order to have time, as he always said, “to spend some time with the Good Book” before he started his day. I well remember him sitting in his favorite chair, steaming cup of coffee by his side, reading from his Bible before leafing through every page of our daily newspaper.

Dad in 1952

Daddy worked long hours as an airplane mechanic, helping maintain and repair our nation’s latest experiments and developments. He’d served as a mechanic in the Korean War, and afterwards spent the better part of his life working for the Air Force. He never really talked about his job – likely because he couldn’t – but he never complained, either. Not once do I remember ever thinking it was a burden or chore for him to go to work every day to provide for us kids.

And when he came home, he was always puttering with something – repairing a sliding screen door we kids had managed to derail yet again or weeding his bounteous garden or tending to other chores around the house. He didn’t gripe about it, either. Ok, he griped about the door. But he had cause. We knocked that door off its wheels with more regularity than the mailman delivered our bills. But mostly, Dad didn’t complain. He was a pleasant, kind man who never made us feel it a burden that he cared for our needs and kept our home and lives in good repair.

Dad in his favorite chair

And now when I see him at the age of 80, often still sitting in his favorite chair with his favorite dog sitting in his lap, I’m filled with so much gratitude. Even now when he hugs me, I feel safe, like all is well in the world and nothing can go so wrong that it can’t be fixed. I’m a grown woman and responsible for myself, but my dad has the ability to make me feel like I’m still that little pony-tailed girl snuggled close in his hug. I can’t imagine a better gift that a father could give his daughter, and I feel so lucky to have belonged to him.