This month is all about sharing HERstory, and in this case the HER is ME. But I’m going rogue here when I say that sometimes the most influential person in HERstory is really a HE. Now before my feminist sisters get their panties all in a wad, hear me out. If we want true equality, we have to accept it in all forms, which means acknowledging that a man – more specifically, a single dad – can be just as capable of raising a strong, independent woman as anyone else. And to disagree would imply that a single mom couldn’t possibly raise a strong, independent son without the help of a man. And I personally reject that theory, for reasons that should be obvious.
So now that we’re all on the same page, let me tell ya about a guy named Pops and why so much of my story can be credited to him, above anyone else.
If he were here today, he’d be the first to admit he was never in the running for “Parent of the Year”. He didn’t show up to all (really, any) of my softball games, he never read bedtime stories or taught me to ride a bike. There weren’t a lot of tender “daddy-daughter” moments like some Hallmark Channel movie where every conversation is chock full of life lesson and ends in a tearful embrace. How often does real life play out like a Hallmark Channel movie anyway? Give me a break with that shit.
No, our relationship was…complicated. Mainly because I was an ungrateful pain in the ass that refused to listen, and he was a functional alcoholic who wasn’t prepared to be thrust into the role of sole caregiver. Clearly we both had our issues.
You wouldn’t think a man with an attitude and a mouth like Clint Eastwood would know the first damn thing about raising a woman. And you’d be right. He was clueless about fashion, leg-shaving, bra-fitting, PMS, diets, makeup, or anything else synonymous with “girlhood.” Lucky for him, and maybe partially because of him, I grew up more of a tomboy anyway and eventually picked up what I needed to know about chick stuff from female friends and Cosmo magazine.
So how the hell can I credit him for anything to do with my womanhood??? Turns out you don’t need boobs and a vagina to teach strength and independence. You don’t even need words; actions and example are equally effective. While my girlfriends enjoyed spa days and shopping trips with their mothers, Pops was taking me to see war movies in the theater. Hey, it was his version of quality time. We watched CNN at home and he would point out why this Senator was an asshole, and why this other guy didn’t know what he was talking about. With his prodding I eventually began to voice my own political opinions, naïve and utopian as they probably were. He would challenge me to defend my positions, which I did the way any red-blooded American teenager would do: by quoting a bunch of stuff I had read on the Internet. But I was never laughed at or belittled. He debated me, a dumb little girl who knew nothing of how the world really worked, as an equal. Doing so gave me the confidence to continue voicing my opinions, the courage to defend them, and the belief that I could actually change what was going on in the world. He routinely tried convincing me to go into politics, saying that a woman with beauty, brains and a no-bullshit attitude would be an unstoppable force in DC. I told him if I ever met a woman like that, she’d get my vote, to which he’d just shake his head. Before you jump all over his beauty comment like “OMG, so sexist!”, just remember that legit studies (we’re talking MIT) show that attractiveness of a political candidate is a key factor in voting, especially for women. So lay down your torches, ladies. Pops was a realist, not a sexist.
And speaking of beauty, there was no standard for it in our home. With few females around to guide me, I was pretty much a schizophrenic hot mess when it came to my appearance. I experimented with every look imaginable, from spiral perms to purple hair, black lipstick to spiked dog collars, tattoos to streaky tanning lotions. My friends’ parents would lock them in the house rather than let them go out in public looking like any of that, but Pops would just force a smile and tell me how “cool” I looked and how proud he was that I was such a “trendsetter.” All of which was bullshit of course. Pretty sure his eyes literally popped out of his skull the day I left for a concert in fishnet stockings and purple boots. But he accepted it. He accepted me. Where society saw some freak, or some dumb rebellious kid, he saw his daughter just trying to find herself. And rather than try to mold me into someone that would blend in, he encouraged me to stand out. Naturally like a typical teenage brat I didn’t appreciate his support at the time. But looking back and knowing what evolved from that period of self-expression, I realize that encouragement was EVERYTHING.
Along with the encouragement went a healthy dose of tough love. I’ve heard it’s easier to give boys because they’re taught from a young age to have thick skin, but I think girls NEED to get their fair share as well. Because we all know life is not fucking FAIR. And if anyone is typically sheltered from that reality, it’s a young girl. Don’t let her watch scary movies. Don’t let her walk alone at night. Don’t let her run with the wrong crowd. Don’t let her get hurt. Either Pops didn’t believe in any of those rules, or he was just too busy to enforce them. His rules were simple. Wanna watch a scary movie? Cool, but don’t expect me to feel sorry for you if you puke all over the bed because you’re too scared to fall asleep (yes, this happened. Nightmare on Elm Street, circa 1988). Wanna walk alone at night? Carry a pocketknife and enough change for the bus if you need a ride home. Wanna run with the wrong crowd? Be prepared to deal with the consequences and don’t come begging for bail money. Sick or hurt? Drive yourself to the hospital and I’ll sign you out when you’re done. Just don’t die.
It may all sound a lil harsh, especially to the helicopter parents of today, but I’m not sure I could have learned independence and self-reliance in any better way. Isn’t that part of what defines a strong woman? Isn’t that what we crave on the road to equality, that we are trusted and respected enough to make our own decisions? And if any consequences result from those decisions, that we can handle that shit the same way a man can? For better or for worse, Pops taught me to handle my shit.
And he knew how not to lose his. We fought like cat and dog most days, and I would boldly curse right in his face, even DARING to smack him once in defiance. Come on, who does that??? Seriously, I was an awful bitch back then, it’s embarrassing. And I truly would have deserved it if he had just backhanded me right then and there, as a kneejerk reaction. But even though I saw his jaw and fist clench, he did nothing but walk away. He always said there was never any excuse to raise a hand to a woman, and he proved it to me on that occasion. I remembered that years later when a man I was dating actually did raise his hand to me and tried to defend himself afterward by saying that I had antagonized him. Having seen firsthand that a real man is strong enough to just walk away, I called that nonsense out for what it was, sent him off to spend a night in jail, and moved on.
Then there was the day I wrote Pops a letter saying that I was dropping out of high school because I was bored and didn’t fit in (first world problems, waaaaaaah). I was too chicken to tell him to his face. But when I did come to face him a few days later, all he said to me was, “Well, I just hope you have a plan for what comes next.” I didn’t of course, but a few years later after a baby, a marriage, and finally a college graduation, I jokingly told him, “See Pops, told ya I had a plan.” He smirked and said, “I never doubted you.” That was our awkward version of the Hallmark Channel moment.
It’s hard to believe that Pops passed away three years ago today. I would have loved to share these thoughts with him while he was still around, but he was too damn humble and stubborn to want to hear it anyway. It would have just ended in an argument like everything else, God love him, LOL. So instead of mourning his memory, I choose to honor his life by continuing on with HERstory, and doing what he taught me to do best: take care of my bidness, encourage nonconformity, and use my voice. Speaking of voice, tomorrow I’m meeting with reps from the Libertarian Party of CA to setup a new local chapter. Pretty sure Pops would be stoked.