It’s not that I was surprised to learn that my dad was a feminist but more so that I didn’t have the knowledge to understand what that meant growing up. When I first found my entryway into feminism in college, my friends started asking me where it came from.
It took some time for me to realize that my feminist thinking was actually a product of how I was raised. And while my mother has contributed to this immensely, in honor of Father’s Day, I wanted to pay a little tribute to one of the most feminist men I know, my dad.
In retrospect, there were subtle clues that he was a feminist all along, but here is a list of my personal favorites:
Despite being a microbiologist, my dad’s areas of interest expand far beyond the realm of science. He’s incredibly interested in world history, politics, and social justice and as such is exceptionally well read and made it his duty to ensure that I was as well. Growing up I would find a newspaper clipping of his favorite article from that day on my pillow before I went to bed each night, knowing that he expected a fully engaged dialogue about it over breakfast the next morning.
Maybe the idea that any dad would ever slut-shame his own daughter sounds a bit bizarre but it’s actually one of the most common portrayals of the father-daughter dynamic. Dads want their little girls to not only be pure virginal beings but to dress like they are too. When I was in middle school, I made some questionable fashion choices that were more revealing than they should’ve been. I have a vivid memory of a male teacher asking me how my father let me out of the house in the morning. The concept that my father would have to give me permission to wear what I wanted was pretty foreign to me. He let me make my own mistakes and didn’t equate my outfit choices with my presumed sexual activity.
Maybe this doesn’t sound necessarily feminist to some but as a chubby and shy kid with bad bangs the idea that anyone in this world thought I was beautiful gave me the ounce of self-esteem I needed to get through the day. His daily reassurances helped me to build my confidence and develop a shield for the daily reminders that I could always look better than I currently do.
He’s never measured my success in anything but my personal happiness and fulfillment. He knows that for me nothing would make me happier than building a career that I love and am successful at and so while he worries about what that will end up being and if it will afford me the financial security he hopes I will have, he has never once questioned my lack of plan to land a man and give him more grandchildren.
For some of us, getting a tattoo is a feminist statement. It can be an act of self-expression and also an F-you to the rest of society that tries to claim ownership over our bodies. When I surprise-revealed my tattoo over a Skype conversation with my family, they were less than amused. The next morning I woke up to an email from my dad telling me that he actually really liked it and that he was proud of me for doing something that meant so much to me.
My parents have been married for over 30 years and not a day goes by that my dad doesn’t tell me how much he loves his wife. He’s never treated with her anything but the utmost respect and the same goes for his three girls. After spending 10 years at home raising my sisters and I, my mom decided to go back to work. My dad was nothing but supportive and together, with the help of a nanny, they worked to equally share the household and childcare duties.
When I came home from college with my new feminist views, my dad was impressed and excited to have a new area of interest to engage in intellectual discussions with me. He gave me his copy of Hillary Clinton’s biography and starting scanning the bookstore for anything related to feminism that we could read together. When I went to grad school to study gender, knowing that the concept was central to feminism but never fully able to grasp it himself, he was even more thrilled. Every time he sees the word “gender” appear in the newspaper he makes it a point to physically hang on to the article until the next time he sees me so we can discuss it.
In addition to my big brown eyes and over-active sweat glands, one of the many wonderful things I get from my dad is my ability to be open and accepting of all people. He taught me early on that everyone makes their own choices and mistakes and that we are no better simply because ours are different. I realize now that it is that insight that finally allowed feminism to click for me, because as much as it is about gender equality, it is also about acknowledging that everyone’s lived experiences are different and those experiences will shape who they are and how they view the world. Luckily enough for me, my lived experience provided with a feminist role model who happens to also be a phenomenal dad.