How My Traditional Father Raised A Strong, Modern Daughter

When I was six years old my dad started teaching me how to play chess. He had this really large, vintage chess set which I have since inherited. We would play fairly regularly, but my dad never let me win. He gave me a book to read to learn to play chess, an adult's guide on chess. And I read it. I would organize pieces on the board as I read to mimic different moves and strategies that I saw in the book.We would play and I would lose but I kept learning. And eventually, finally, one day I won. Not the hollow victory of him letting me win, but I really won.

And that day, I learned a little about earning respect.

My dad was a bit older than some of my friends' parents were. My dad was born in 1946, and his parents were older when they had him - they were born in 1904 and 1905. My dad was raised by an extremely old fashioned, French Canadian woman. And my dad was the baby of the family. I think it's safe to say my dad was catered to growing up.

My dad held a lot of very traditional views, many of which I share but others that I found grossly antiquated. I laugh now thinking back to some of the things I am shocked he had the audacity to say! My dad held ideals about women that were no doubt shaped by the traditional love and care he received from his mother.

My dad liked dainty blonde women. The Michelle Pfeiffer types. My mom fits this type. My dad was a fussy eater and liked to have his culinary preferences - which were pretty basic - catered to. In this he was also lucky, because my mom went to cooking school for four years. My dad for sure wanted an equal, capable partner, which my mom absolutely was, but he also wanted to be the one casting the larger shadow (and he did this and I will save this for a different post someday, but we are kidding ourselves if we don't recognize that my mom casts a pretty formidable shadow herself).

In so much of this, I am not what my dad would have called "ideal." There's nothing dainty or domestic about me and while I am agreeable, I am not the type to cater to anything. I suspect I am not at all like his mother. But if I am the way I am, it's because my dad taught me to be this way!

My dad was known for what I will call lengthy pontifications - avoiding carefully here the word "lectures!" During these times, he would illustrate how different choices he made, and his different expectations and standards, helped make him who he was. He never accepted what he was told without validating it. He treated all people with respect and expected that in return. He valued an outspoken opinion, civil disobedience, speaking up for justice and doing what is right. My dad would voice a controversial or unpopular opinion without hesitation. He was always unapologetically himself.

A man of his time, my dad was confident and forceful, a dominant presence, proud of his masculinity. And yet there were many occasions over the years as I interacted with my dad where he would look at me with this mixture of annoyance and astonishment at some of the things I would say, as if - how can this be my daughter?! To which I would quickly always remind him, "I'm just like you."

So much of how I approach life is exactly like how I learned to play chess with my dad. I study. I seek advice. I learn. I make myself an expert. And then I proceed to dominate at what I aim to do. And I thank my dad for never taking it too easy on me. Yes, he was there to comfort me when I struggled. And no man on earth had the compassion of my dad. But he had expectations. I can recall standing before him in trepidation when I knew I had done something disappointing, but I can recall equally well standing before him with that joy you have when your dad is extremely proud of you.

I have not had the life that my dad had, or that he might have wished for me. I am not bound by many of the same traditions, I am not a mother, I am not especially demure. But I think if I could stand before my dad today, he would be extremely proud of me, proud of my independence, my accomplishments and my confidence. And he should be proud, because in so many ways I am just like him.


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