Jun 172012

Me and my dad at his very first hockey game ever: Winnipeg Jets vs. Florida Panthers, March 1, 2012. Photo by Trevor Hagan, Winnipeg Free Press.

So there was this day, a couple of years ago, where I was driving with my dad and talking endlessly about the world and everything in it as I do and he turns to me and says, “I got a hearing aid yesterday.”

And I was shocked, because while my dad was born in 1939 and these things happen to people of a certain age, I would never have guessed his hearing was slipping away.

He laughed, when I told him this. “Well,” he said, “I think it’s that you’re so used to me being a quiet listener.”

Oh, it’s so true.

A few words about my dad. My dad is now 73 years old, but everyone thinks he’s at least 10 years younger. He has six children and a white beard and looks a little like Jack Nicholson, especially in the eyebrows. He tells unforgivably corny jokes with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. He melts for strawberry shortcake and has always been fascinated with wolves. You know all those t-shirts emblazoned with generic wolf nature scenes that you see at tourist traps, and you wonder who in the world buys them? My dad buys them.

He is also without question the best human I have ever known, the best friend I have ever had and the original source of every value I hold dear.

On the surface, I have him to thank for my generically privileged middle-class upbringing, for the music lessons and the art supplies and the vacations and the band trips and the endless supply of new books and all the other little things that add up. He bankrolled my various attempts at post-secondary education, bailed me out of a lot of financial messes of my own youthful making, and generally made sure that I never had to fear poverty, not in the way so many people in this world must.

But of all the investments he made in me, it’s the time I remember.

There was so much of it, so much time spent in just simple father-daughter companionship. So many camping trips and long, lazy drives around the city, while he listened to me talk about hopes and hurts and dreams. So many visits to the old farmyard at the University of Manitoba, where he’d hold my tiny hand and show me how to feed the sheep through the fence. So many concerts, and lunches, and early-morning trips to pick me up from the wreckage of some filthy house party because I had no money for cab fare. So many nights I’d lie awake, bundled up in blankets while he read me chapter after chapter of my favourite fantasy novel until I fell asleep. He somehow always sensed when I’d slipped away, and would carefully earmark the page to pick up the very next night.

In all of this time, he taught me every value I still hold to my core. He taught me that humans, really, aren’t so bad, it’s just that we’re all trying to be heard. He taught me that empathy and compassion must be the lights that guide our way, and that it’s okay to see the world in shades of grey. He taught me how to develop my own opinions, and often reserved his own so as to let me freely do so. (I often, however, arrived at the same conclusions as he did.) He taught me about my own privilege, and helped introduce me to a world far beyond our little academic-suburban-middle-class bubble.

Best of all, because I am a feminist and it does matter to me: my dad liked women.

Oh, I mean, most people like women, or have women in their life that they like. But the more I’ve spoken to friends and colleagues about their fathers, the more I ken the difference. Know this: when I was growing up, my dad had women friends that he listened to, and admired. He read women authors, and celebrated women politicians, and spoke proudly of the accomplishments of his women graduate students — never inadvertently minimizing their accomplishments with a backhanded gendered compliment, but celebrating them as equals and people and peers.

And of the young women who were his daughters — well, he admired us most of all.

How can you even put a value on how that impacts a little girl, when her father is so openly and freely admiring and respectful of women? I always knew that women could be anything, because my dad taught me this. It is now the predominant mainstream opinion in North America, but what’s remarkable is that my father came of age in a time when that simply wasn’t true — or at least, when it wasn’t believed to be true. And yet, in no uncertain terms, he taught me that my life and my body was my own, that the most rigid gender roles are made to be bent and broken, that the entire world was open to me and that it was okay to raise my voice, and be stubborn, and have fierce opinions, and stand tall in the world.

My dad does not believe in “difficult women,” in that way. He always loved hearing what I had to say.

Finally, there is this: for as long as I can remember, my dad trusted me. He trusted me to make my own decisions, to go out in the world and to explore it and not be afraid. Sometimes I made bad choices, because I was young and mistakes are part of growing up. But it was alright, because dad was always there to pick me up when I stumbled. As I got older and my mistakes became more grown-up, he didn’t ask many questions, and was never one to pry. But he would ask the only question that mattered: “are you okay?”

In the end, I always was. And often, largely, because of him.

I am so grateful and so very, very lucky.

So that’s my father. That’s my life. And I write this to say this: all of you fathers out there, who identify as fathers and embrace that role with the gravity and humour and sacrifice and love and incredible commitment of time that the job entails, thank you. There are few words that can properly convey the impact you have and the important role you play. The world needs you.

As a personal note to all you amazing fathers of daughters, who are teaching them every day that they are independent and free and have the strength to withstand the slings and arrows that will someday tear at their self-esteem: thank you. You are giving your daughters the first example of the respect they have a right to expect, and ask for, and deserve. And they will carry that lesson with them through their whole life, and it will spread like ripples through generations and even entire cultures — and part of that beautiful hope is starting, right now, with you.

Happy Fathers Day.


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