An Ode to My Dad, My Greatest Ally

For anyone who knows me and would like to know whom to blame for what could be called my debilitatingly high self-esteem, look no further than my father. There has not been a moment in my life where he didn’t just assume as fact that I could do whatever I set my mind to. To him, my success was a foregone conclusion, a simple truth. From being the only girl on my elementary school baseball team to starting a business with no safety net, he has supported me with coaching (literally - which got awkward when I decided halfway through the baseball season I didn’t want to play anymore and he was still a coach), advice, and a sounding board.

My dad is a Scorpio, which means he has an innate belief that he can stand in front of a speeding train and stop it by holding out his hand. This shows up in a lot of ways. First, it means that when he believes someone can do something, the strength of his conviction wills it into being. Because he believed I could do anything, it became so. Second, his method of train-stopping is to hold out his hand - a method that is calm, purposeful, and without malice. These two aspects of his personality shaped who I am as much as any other experiences could have.

In my entire life, I have never known someone who works as hard or as methodically as my dad. He is the fixer in our family, both of things and people, and he does both with such intentionality that you feel confident you are in the hands of an expert. I have watched him build entire homes, sheds, garages, fences, birdfeeders, cat condos, and once a multi-story guinea pig retirement community that puts to shame my current apartment. I am often impatient and impulsive, wanting things to be done well and right immediately. My dad values the time and patience it takes to get to that end result. He knows nothing happens overnight and I am a better person for having had a front-row seat to his work ethic.

He is willing to put himself through pain, both physical and emotional, to achieve what he wants. It became a running joke in our family to start phone calls with, “I’m ok, but ___ (I stepped on a rusty nail/crushed my wedding ring while still on my finger/got in a car accident/drove through the closed garage door…)” (ok that last one was just me, not him). What could be genuinely traumatic experiences of pain turned into reasonable experiences that will be over soon and will not end us. I learned by watching him that even when it hurts, it will be okay. When I was little, it was the soothing way he removed splinters by distracting me and talking me through the process. When I got older, it was wrapping my sports injuries in Ace bandages and explaining how long the pain would last. In adulthood, it’s talking me through toxic jobs, bad relationships, and uncertain life circumstances that knock my sense of control over the world off its axis.

My dad is not what you would call verbose. He is measured, thoughtful, and specific in his language. It’s part of what makes him so funny. His jokes are deadpan, off the cuff, and so clever that I can’t even be mad that they’re usually at my expense. Instead of words, my dad shows love through acts of service. I have lost count of how many times he has picked me up from a delayed train, bus, or flight, sometimes with a pillow in the car so he can nap until I show up, both of us bleary-eyed and exhausted. He is generous, not just in the financial sense (which he is) but in every way that one could be. He will do anything for anyone and believes that anyone you step on as you claw your way up in the world will wave to you gleefully as you tumble down. Recently, my mom was ranting about someone we all know who had been acting in a way incomprehensible to both me and her. After we both finished ripping into this person, my dad shook his head and said, “People are funny.” We both doubled over laughing that after all that energetic ranting, he could still be kind while not making us feel chastened.

If you asked my mustachioed, Harley-riding, hippie dad if he is a feminist, I think he would have to consider it for a long time before answering. He grew up in an era when feminists were portrayed as hating men, burning bras, and advocating militant overthrows. But if you ask my dad if he thinks I am the smartest, brightest, best person in the world, he would answer yes without hesitation. To me, he is the ultimate feminist, because he taught me that I am smart first and pretty second, that being nice is nowhere near as important as being kind, and that your gut is the best internal compass you have.

We talk a lot in the feminist space about how to be good allies in smashing the patriarchy, and men in general could learn a lot from his model of empathy, tenacity, and confidence. Because my dad is secure in himself, he can build up others around him, including and especially the women in his life. He does not view success as zero-sum and does not believe someone else’s gains are his losses. This is because he knows exactly how much work he has put into everything he earned, and he knows if he had to, he could do it again. That’s the difference between earned rewards and privileges. When your privilege feels like it’s being taken away, you panic because you didn’t do anything to earn it so you have no idea how to get it back. It feels like a fundamental right is being stripped. But when you know how hard you worked to earn something, you know you could do it again if you had to. Even though it’s because of his hard work that I grew up privileged, it was because of his modeling that I knew the difference. Happy Father’s Day to all the great dads out there building up their kids, teaching them how to be good people, and and keeping them humble with well-executed one-liners.