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You don’t understand—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way (Week 24: Fathers and Daughters)

A good friend and I were talking a while ago about catcalling construction workers, strangers on the street telling us to smile, and the worst parts of #metoo, and I realized our fundamental approach/reaction to living in our somewhat fucked up patriarchal society was different.

We were neither of us immune from its ills, because neither of us had a penis.

My friend was diminished and destroyed by every encounter. There was less and less of her left, and I knew this, saw this. Her reaction to each of these interaction, really, was to internalize the blame and to look for the solution within myself. “What have I done to provoke this?” “How can I shrink myself, change myself to avoid this in the future?”

Me? I won’t pretend I wasn’t affected—fuck, of course I was.

But my core, base reaction?

“What the fuck is wrong with you—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way.”

And there, loves, you have the core difference between me and my friend—and, also, the cure for patriarchy.

It took me a while—40+ years, apparently—to realize the full value of the gift my father gave me. I always knew he loved me, of course, and unconditionally. But this is not the difference—my friend’s father loved her too.

My father didn’t just love me. He saw me, from the day I was born, as a full human being—he is an atheist, as am I, or else I would say a divine being—and he treated me with that thing we give the word respect.

It’s not an easy word to define, don’t you think? Respect. It carries so many nuances and cultural overtones. I’ve been struggling to adequately put into words what it is that my father did, because it seems to be almost too simple to have given me the power it has.

But this is it, this is all, this is everything: he treated me, acted, always, as if I mattered. He infused me with a sense of self-worth that’s, so far anyway, proven to be virtually invulnerable to the worst the world has thrown at me.

He did this—well, first let me tell you how he didn’t do this. He wasn’t perfect—when I look at those father’s days cards that say, “You are everything I could wish for in a father!” they are to me a lie. They have been plenty of times that I’ve wished my father was different. I see plenty of flaws in him—and he has always seen most of mine. He didn’t sit me on his lap and say, “You are beautiful. You are smart. You are strong.” Well—possibly, he did—most likely when I was too young to really hear, or when I was asleep. It doesn’t matter. I knew, from the beginnings of memory, that my father thought I was beautiful, smart, strong, IMPORTANT. That I mattered. That my thoughts mattered, my feelings mattered. He talked to me when I was ten—this I remember vividly—the way he talked to adults. He expected me to use my mind, my discernment, my voice.

He expected me to use my voice.

(He bought me my first typewriter, my first computer.)

He disagreed with almost every major life choice I made. My first love, my last love. My choice of degrees, teaching overseas. Quitting a prestigious and stable job for freelance writing. Selling a house and moving into a commune—er, co-op. Homeschooling his grandchildren. Phasing out the profitable freelance writing for the riskier business of writing risque books… His response to each of those decisions was not an enthusiastic, “You go, girl!” It was more along the lines of, “You terrify me. This is a terrible idea. You really shouldn’t do this. Oh. You’re doing this? Well. I got your back, woman. Whatever happens, I’m here, and whatever you do—you’re important and you MATTER.”

I matter.

I have walked through life with this seed mantra inside me—I did not need religion, yoga, meditation or therapy to uncover it. When, at 14 years old, I stood at the head of a martial arts class composed primarily of men in their 20s, 30s and 40s—I knew I mattered and I acted accordingly. I counted, commanded—they jumped. I saw nothing strange about this—although they occasionally did. I was my father’s daughter—this was my due…

When, at 24, I had to argue with boardrooms filled with silverbacks in their 50s who thought they ruled the world, I entered those situations with my father’s power, belief, and strength inside. I mattered. I would be heard.

I expected respect. And I got it. And when I didn’t…

“What the fuck is wrong with you—you can’t treat my father’s daughter this way.”

And that attitude alone changed, defined the situation.

Because my father thought I mattered—I knew I mattered. And so… well, it didn’t really matter what YOU thought, you see. I mattered, I was important, I had a voice—I had boundaries, power, wings, all the things—and if you thought I didn’t matter, if you tried to diminish me… well, you were clearly wrong. There was no argument, no fight, really: you either saw that I mattered and treated me accordingly… or our encounter, professional, romantic, whatever, was terminated.

I know it sounds as if I am oversimplifying it. I don’t believe I am—I think that’s really how it was.

I don’t know if my father would call himself a feminist. He is an Eastern European male of that generation, and he likes women to be ladies and thinks men should be men, and carries within him all sorts of unexamined stereotypes from his particular culture and upbringing. But see… apparently none of that matters. All that matters is that he raised a daughter who knew she mattered.

And he changed the world that way. He really did. I chose to have my children with a man who a) also knew I mattered and b) is raising our daughter to know she matters and c) is doing the same with his sons. And my father had a son too, who now also has daughters, as well as a son.

Each of them matters. Each of them knows they matter: that other human beings, regardless of gender or any other variations, matter.

If that’s not revolution, I don’t know what is.

Thank you, Daddy.

Happy Father’s Day.

I love you.

Marzena