10 Ways My Father Made Me Who I Am

Thanks, Dad.

10. Called out the bullshit behind most love songs

I remember one specific day very clearly. My dad and I have always been able to talk about music. It has been a shared interest of ours for most of my life -- even if we don't always agree on the particular song. One day, I don't remember the context, but I was out having lunch with my dad and an old love song, maybe "My Boyfriend's Back" came on. I was casually humming along, because of my parents I was a huge oldies fan, and my dad asked if I really liked what the song had to say. I hadn't really thought about it. It was a fun song about a girl's boyfriend coming back in town and being her machismo hero, what was there to think about? My father then said something along the lines of "There is just so much more to life than falling in love, or having a boyfriend. Even if the song is catchy." I was 13 years old at the time, boys were a big item on my to-do list, and so I kind of just nodded awkwardly to placate him. But that day stuck with me. It wasn't a long drawn out talk about being independent of a man, it was just a pointed statement about the messages that are sent to young girls in media and pop culture and I have since been acutely aware of these messages. I still hum along to catchy songs, but also roll my eyes at the backwards lyrics.

9. Didn't pierce my ears as a baby

This one sounds silly I know, but the more I see how gender stereotypes are reinforced from an early age by things such as taking your baby girl to get her ears pierced, the more I appreciate this. I vaguely remember being bitter about my virgin ears for a brief stint when I was younger, but as I grew up I kind of loved them. To this day, my ears remain un-punctured. I never really got into jewelry, or even makeup as a kid. Hair styling and fashion were (and honestly still are) kind of lost on me. And all of this stems from the value systems in place when my parents made the decision not to get my ears pierced. That's not to say that there is anything wrong with having your ears pierced, wearing makeup, or dressing nice -- it's just that rather than being indoctrinated and taught to believe that those things are somehow inherently tied to my sex, I can now approach these items from a more informed place. If I choose to wear makeup, or one day get my ears pierced, it will be because I as an individual have decided to do so, rather than simply because I am a woman. I guess I learned really early on that there aren't specific things I have to do or take part in simply because I was born female. And putting holes in my ears is one of those things.

8. Worked from home

I have really only recently begun to understand how much my dad's decision to stay home and take care of my brothers and I while my mother worked has effected my views on gender roles. Having my dad make my lunch, take me to school, clean the house, and make dinner was such a normal part of my life. From sixth grade on my dad was home from work permanently, and prior to that he and my mother split their time between work and home evenly. Seeing my dad fold laundry or do dishes never struck me as remotely odd. It wasn't until college, after I met other students who had stay at home mothers that I realized my situation was unique. Having a dad who cooked and cleaned and loved hanging out with his daughter has helped to discourage almost all stereotypes that might claim those activities are belittling to a man. I appreciate that I will never in my life expect a man to go to work and provide for me, or fix my car while I stay home and bake (which is good because I cannot cook). My ideas on masculinity are vastly different than those of many of my peers, and I think I can thank my stay at home dad for that.

7. Never bought me a Barbie doll for my birthday

The only thing even close to a Barbie that I was ever given was a doll themed around career-oriented women (OK, well I also had a Sporty Spice doll, but we can just leave the Spice Girls out of this for now?). The doll I was given was a redheaded veterinarian complete with a white coat, dog, and medical kit. Other than this one doll most of my gifts were more along the lines of an insect collection kit, a microscope, a telescope, a safari vest, and lots of books. I loved these gifts, the mirrored my interests as a child perfectly, but they also encouraged me to care more about my brain and my career than being pretty, learning to cook, or falling in love. Walking around in toy stores I have realized that these are the things most girl's toys tend to focus on.


6. Fostered a passion for nature and the outdoors

Along the same line as the safari vest and the insect collection kit, my dad always shared in my passion for the outdoors. Our family trips were more often to the mountains than to the mall. I've known how to pitch a tent since I was eight. I had an obsession with bugs when I was a kid that my dad relished in. Whether I was climbing trees or planting them, my dad was always right there next to me -- encouraging me. I think that far too often young girls are discouraged from pursuing these kinds of interests. Being outside, chasing bugs, climbing trees, digging in the dirt -- these are things I think a lot of fathers do with their sons but maybe not enough with their daughters. The fact that my dad shared these experiences with me has definitely helped turn me into the crazy outdoor woman I am today. I own more hiking shoes than heels, more backpacks than purses, and I can't paint my nails to save my life but I can start a campfire.

5. Made me take out the trash

This one is silly, but it resonates. Recently in a gender studies class that I took all of the students had to take a survey discussing who in the house did which chores. It shocked me that so many of my classmates lived in homes where the chores were regulated by gender. I took the trash out just as often as my brothers, who did the laundry right alongside me. I mowed the lawn and pulled weeds, I never knew that in another house I could get out of those things just because one day I would have boobs. At the time, I probably would have thought I was getting cheated in some way. Now, I really respect this decision. Nothing in my house centered on the genitals of its occupants. I've seen my mother change the oil on a car, and I have watched my father bake a cake. I think that I saw housewives and working fathers in the media, but I never internalized those messages and I never really thought they reflected reality. And more importantly, now that I live alone without a man I am still taking out the trash and mowing the lawn. So good for you dad for teaching me how!


4. Told me how smart I am

Of course I was told how beautiful I was by my parents (who could blame them I was gorgeous), but what was really laid into me growing up was that I had more value in my brain than on my face. My parents constantly told me how smart I was, how funny I could be, what a great writer I was becoming. We talked about college and planned elaborate fantasies about winning a Nobel Prize one day. Encouraging my self-esteem and confidence in realms outside of appearance are no doubt huge parts of how far I have made it academically. How we see ourselves is shaped so early in our lives, and by having a father tell me I was a smart three year old rather than a pretty one gave me a confidence in my intelligence that has propelled me into the future that I occupy today.

3. Taught me I was no Disney Princess

In third grade I dressed up as Jane Goodall for Halloween -- no one got it. When I was five I was a Musketeer. I absolutely abhorred dresses and princesses. I wouldn't be caught dead having a tea party. I though Snow White was a wuss. The only Disney Princess I ever really related to was Pocahontas. I was grossed out by romance, and loved the fact that she saved John Smith and then didn't leave with him. My dad hated Disney Princesses too, and I looked up to him completely so I have no doubt my disdain was a mirror of his. But I appreciate this. Silly princess stories about getting saved by a white knight have always irritated me, and looking back I think that is important. I never internalized the messages that they propagate. I have never expected a man to come to my aid. I have always preferred to rely on myself. My dad taught me to be my own hero.


2. Encouraged me in math and science

This may come as a shock, since I am writing for a blog, but my first passion was always science. I have always been good at math and obsessed with learning about the world. My dad was working on his bachelor's degree in science when I was in grade school. I spent my afternoons in the bio lab with him while he completed his course work. I watched him dissect things and perform experiments and I was hooked. I became obsessed with the image of my college-aged self, working hard in a lab, dissecting a cat. I made that image a reality, and I know that my th grade algebra class was never discussed. I was a girl, I was good at math and I loved science and that was never weird in my house. And today I have never felt inferior to my male counterparts. I still find it surprising when I read studies about the low numbers of professional women in these fields. Being a girl who loved science was never an issue for me, but I can see how growing up and being taught to play house and make crafts rather than dissect fish could discourage some girls. I am so happy that never happened to me. I treasure my memory of staring at a round tank in a darkened lab housing jellyfish with my dad, while he patiently answered all of my questions.


1. Treated me the same as my brothers

I grew up with an older brother and a younger one, but I always felt like one of the boys. I am sure my parents would have appreciated having one child who wasn't constantly covered in mud and coming home with torn clothes, but unfortunately that was not the case. I rough housed with my brother's, dug holes, climbed trees, played ball. My younger brother and I are only a year apart and shared most of the same friends. I watched all of the same shows as my brother; we played with all of the same toys. We shared a bedroom that housed just as many toy soldiers as stuffed bears. My brother and I played side by side, never separately. Action figures were our go to toy option, but Legos were a close second. I played my first game of Risk when I was nine, I still hate the game but I did play it. I was never treated any differently than my brother as a child, and I think that is probably more important than either of my parents could have realized. We remember those differences, we internalize them. Those differences can be the basis for patriarchal thinking that can last a lifetime. Our relationships with our brothers and our fathers and how we are treated by them are reflected in how we carry out our relationships with men later in life. And because of the way I was raised by my parents, the fact that I was treated the same way as my brothers means that today I will never see myself as anything less than 100 percent equal to men.

Kelsey Bain writes regularly at nolafeminizer.com.