Tuesday, June 01, 2010

I blame my dad

My poor father died six years ago today. He was 71, which isn't especially young, but I'm sure he would have had at least another ten years if he didn't get lung cancer. It was no surprise that he did get lung cancer, he smoked constantly throughout his life from the age of 12. He tried to taper off by the time he retired, but the damage was already done. Ever since I was a kid I fully expected him to die of lung cancer.

My dad was a great guy. He never made alot of money - at least not a lot considering he had six kids to raise, and sent all of us to tuition-charging Catholic school. But he sure worked for his money. I cannot remember a single day he ever took off from work - he had a rock solid routine of going to work, working, and coming home.

But even more importantly, he really liked being a dad. In nice weather he would come home from work and play in the backyard with us kids - whiffle ball and volley ball - things like that. And all the kids in the neighborhood would come over and play too - my dad was like the neighborhood recreation captain. And he was completely fair - he never gave his own kids an advantage on scoring or strikes - he was a perfect umpire.

Only years later, after we were all too old to play whiffle ball in the backyard did it occur to me that my brothers and sisters and I never played games with any of the other kids' dads. Not a single one of them.

And not spending quality time was the least of it for some of the other kids' dads. Some dads were actively harmful: the girls in the house behind us were sexually molested by their father. My best friend's father was an alcoholic, and while he was nice enough, in spite of the drinking binges, he really didn't have any interest in speaking to children - not even his own children, let alone neighborhood kids. Plenty of people I know had such bad relationships with their dads - my sister-in-law's father hasn't spoken to her in ten years, my ex-husband's father barely ever spoke to him, an ex-boyfriend's father used to savagely beat him.

The older I get the more I realize how incredibly lucky my siblings and I were to have such a good dad.

But in addition to being kind and fair to kids he respected women. He was fairly conservative, and a devout Catholic, so he wasn't exactly a feminist. But even so, he saw women as human beings, and as individuals. He didn't treat me and my sisters any differently than my brothers - everybody was welcome to play whiffle ball. And he expressed pride and admiration in our accomplishments.

Again, growing up I didn't realize how rare this was. Only as an adult did I discover how much utter contempt so many men have for women. I never saw my dad leering at a woman - not in front of my mother or any other time. He never made lewd comments about women. He would never dream of having a girlie magazine in the house. Some might attribute this to his religiosity, but I don't think so. I've known plenty of men who were religious and yet didn't respect women.

And most men seem to feel that the role of any woman in his life is to express admiration for him and his accomplishments. Her accomplishments aren't worth mentioning - that's not her job, to be admirable, her job is strictly to admire. That is why I'm a complete sucker for any man who freely expresses admiration for any woman's accomplishments.

My dad was also very honest, to a fault. He didn't go out of his way to insult or criticize anybody, but he was not a bullshitter. You knew where you stood with him, and so did everybody else.

So that was my dad - he respected women and admired their accomplishments, liked kids, had dignity, was honest, and except for cigarettes, had self-control. I grew up expecting men to be like that, and so few of them are. So many men, it seems to me, are sniveling, whiny, lecherous misogynist creeps - especially all those middle-aged men who play with their expensive toys and get lap-dances and try to hook up with 20-something women - and then whine that women are gold-diggers.

I expect something different - I blame my dad.