Monday, January 22, 2007

My Father

I've had a complicated relationship with my father. He's not dead, but we're not speaking. I was his favorite, his first. We used to stay up late together talking about things like geology and weather and nature and energy and resources, but sometimes about interpersonal things. I'd give him a backrub and massage his feet, and he would tell me about the world. He was especially worried about energy and overpopulation. He was an engineer and a marine. Rather a stoic guy, but around me he became very soft and silly, just to please me. I wore my hair long because he liked it that way; my mom was stuck dealing with my knots. I have always had wild bedroom hair, but that's a story for a different day. Today is about my father.

My father and mother didn't seem to have much in common. I could never figure out why they got married. How they met? He needed a date for a dance, and his friends sent him in to a hotel to ask the first woman he saw. My mom was at the counter. He had Mayflower status; she was the daughter of immigrants. He had aristocracy; she had labor. He had Southern Baptism, to fear; she had Catholicism, to ignore. He had everything to conserve; she had nothing particularly to lose. Of course they divorced.

As a young girl, I was taught very liberal, progressive values. Things like all people have value, everyone is of equal importance, people are generally good, we reap what we sow, intention is almost everything, government exists to serve the people.

When I grew up and hit college, my father confessed to me that he had always refrained from speaking freely with me to appease my mother, but now that I was an adult, he felt free to speak his mind. The things he shared with me revealed racism and sexism that I could not fathom. He used to quote Rush and cite his sources all the time. He loved Rush. I think he could see the nausea wash over my face when he spoke of race. He talked more about gender, perhaps because it was more personal for me, perhaps because in my own bias, I was less sure. His favorite meme: "American society fell apart when women started wearing pants." Then there was the bit about women working outside of the home was destroying America. Birth control was essential for population control; abortion was simply wrong. It made it too easy to be a trollop. And who wants that? We debated abortion all the time, paddling in his fishing boat, driving around in his white Ford truck, which even back then I knew screamed out "Republican."

It was complicated. I loved him so much. For all the times he held me down and tickled me, for the silly voice he used to make me laugh, for the way he teased me, for sharing his love of nature with me, for the way he used to say, "I love you, baby." And yet, as I matured I came to learn that the Venn diagram of our values held rather a thin slice in common. One day, as we were driving in the Ford, out looking for nature, in round number 47 on abortion, he said, "You know, baby, I'm not a woman. Maybe if I were a woman, I'd feel differently. So I guess I can't really know for sure." I think in that moment, I knew more that he loved me than at any other. I knew how hard it was for him to give me this. I knew how uncomfortable he was giving away control. And I felt his love and respect for me as a person, every bit as valuable and important as he, himself. I loved him so much for that.

And today, on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v Wade decision, which protected the rights of individual to make personal decisions based on their own beliefs, I remember my father.

He hated government interference and intrusion. Ranted all the time. Funny how much he agreed back then with the thinking of First Freedom First now:
Individuals may look to their own faith or other ethical considerations as they make these choices, but the government must never mandate that all Americans must follow the tenets of one religious viewpoint.
Funny how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So for me, it comes down to something really simple. The way to honor and respect and love a woman is to trust her to make decisions about herself, her body, and her life. This is what is meant by everyone is of equal importance. "As long as men control women's sexuality and reproduction, women will never be equal."

So there it is. My response to the question, "Why are you pro-choice?"

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

You know it. I know it. You want the postscript. You want it bad. Fine.

One night on the telephone, as we discussed Clinton's Democratic congress and my father launched attack number 8,042 on Hillary and her law career, I asked my father if he had ever read her legal writings. You see, I had. And I was able to explain why I thought she was brilliant. And correct. I was emboldened. I pushed it. I told him that if I ever had a daughter, I might choose to name her "Hillary" (lie). Further emboldened by his gasp, I pressed on. I told him that if I ever had a second, I might choose to name her "Eleanor" (another lie).

That is the last time we spoke. I guess that's where he drew the line.

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