My Father, The Feminist

I was driving in the rain and slush this morning when it occurred to me I need a new wiper for my rear window. I remembered my mother mentioning an auto parts store that had installed her windshield wipers for free. I considered going there, but then decided it would be cheaper just to run to the local department store and put it on myself. Then, and welcome to my mind, I started considering the idea of a woman working on a car and how even in 2013 that is an odd concept. Even something as simple as replacing a windshield wiper–it’s expected we find a male friend or hire a man to do such a task.

We are often still treated differently (Even swindled at times!) at a mechanic’s shop. I recall my father teaching me how to change my oil when I was eighteen. Today of course, it’s cheaper to just head to the shop to get my oil changed. But if I ever needed to, I know how to do the job. I love that my father taught me this. It’s one of the more complicated things a layperson can do themselves on their car. Changing a tire, replacing fluids or spark plugs, and maybe a few other fixes are on that list, and my father taught me how to do them all. He was always stressing the importance of my understanding the inner-workings of my car, as well as the plumbing and appliances in my home.

It dawned on me how often my father disregarded any old-school gender roles while raising me. He taught me how to play softball. He brought me to baseball, football, and ice hockey games. He explained sports to me and we watched countless games at home. He showed me how to create and maintain a garden. I was his little helper around the house, from fixing electrical circuits and minor plumbing repairs to painting and using a hammer and nails. He also tried, as patiently as possible, to teach me the names of various tools. To this day, I have trouble remembering which is a Phillips screwdriver or an Allen wrench. But I understand their differences and which one is needed. I’ve never been good with names!

I’m the youngest of four daughters. I’ve heard the story of how thrilled my dad was when he thought for an instant his second child was a son. Also, the account of my grandfather shaking his head saying “another one?” when my mom gave birth to a third daughter. Having a son, passing along the family name, was apparently a very big deal to him. To my father, though, I’m not sure it was. I never got the feeling he’d hoped for a son and instead ended up with daughters. Never once did I feel like a consolation prize. My dad is a stoic man, his quiet demeanor would not have been different if I were born a boy. And quite frankly, I don’t think anything my father ever did would have been different if I were male.

This is somewhat astounding to me, now that I reflect on this, since my parents both fell into very traditional sex roles. I’m talking Mad Men style! My mother was a typical 1960’s housewife. She would be dressed up, a cocktail in hand for my father when he came home from work, with a complete dinner ready. While she was quite political and interested in the feminist movement, her passions faded as she fell further into her roles at home. She tells me how my father would tell her “not to think too much” and when she would say something liberal, he would reply with, “What book are you reading now?” My father is conservative. He listens to Rush Limbaugh. We don’t see eye to eye on most political and social issues. But, I know he cares about me and loves me, regardless. It makes me happy now as I think about the things he showed and taught me. Despite what views he may have (Or perhaps, thinks he has.) about the role of women, he wasn’t going to instill those boundaries on his daughters. He was, and he’ll never admit it, a feminist.

So as I head out to the store to buy some new wiper blades, and then install them myself, I have my father to thank. I’ll save a few bucks, but also enjoy the feeling of pride I always get when I’ve done something myself. It’s because of him I never doubt whether I could or can make it on my own. And still, I also know if I needed his assistance on a project or a question answered, I could ask. He would help, and teach me along the way, and never in a demeaning way. I’ve had one too many experiences when a man looks down at me to “teach” me (The little lady.) a lesson, often ending their speech with, “sweetheart.” Not my father. He sees me as a human, fully capable of changing my tire, even if I’m wearing a skirt and heels.  That’s something I’ll always admire about my dad. And while he might balk at the title of this entry, I know it’s true.