by Debbie Carini
This time of year, I naturally think about ways to describe what I am thankful for and, because my blessings are so many, I have a hard time narrowing it down to one-in-particular. And then, the news cycle dropped a gift in my lap: the #MeToo campaign—women coming forward to share their experiences with sexual assault and/or harassment.
It made me think about my circumstances as a woman coming-of-age shortly after the women’s lib movement of the early 1970s. And that made me realize who I needed to thank: my Dad.
In 1935, when my Dad was born, the number of women who worked outside the home (in jobs as maids, teachers or nurses) was 11 million, approximately 25 percent of all women living in the United States.
Today, according to the US Department of Labor, that number has risen to 74 million women, around 58 percent of women in the United States. I state these numbers because I want to start my story with facts that substantiate the circumstances during which my father was raised, a time in which women had few, if any, equal rights in pay, education or work force participation.
My dad loves college football, working in the yard and building things in the garage. He has three brothers—my mother has two—so I think they assumed they would have at least one boy in their brood. But pregnancy after pregnancy brought forth another girl, starting with me and ending 13 years and three more daughters later, with my sister Nancy.
At a certain point in the 1960s, perhaps after my third sister Diane was born, my father came to the realization that he wasn’t going to have any sons and that if he wanted to do father-child bonding things over activities he enjoyed, he was going to be doing that with two giggly redheaded girls. And so, my sister Donna and I (born 18 months apart) commenced to learn about yard work, washing cars and college football.
My dad took me to get my first public library card, and he encouraged me to read and to use my intelligence. He wrote the word “THINK” in all caps on the inside covers of all my composition books. He told me over and over again, when I was 5, 6, 7, 8 and beyond, that I was going to college. This was during a time—the 1960s—when women still comprised less than half of the college population.
Perhaps he had us do yardwork and wash the cars partly because he had no other choice, but it says something about his belief in our skills that he allowed us to set up our own workshop in the garage, and use his (prized) tools to do all sorts of crazy things. (We went off the grid with our Girl Scout handbook—a lot).
There are times when my dad may not seem particularly “PC.” For instance, he still calls waitresses “dear.” But his heart has always been in the right place; he wanted us—his daughters—to explore all possibilities and be what we wanted to be.
So thanks, Dad, for making me change my first flat tire (while you stood by, protecting me from oncoming traffic and keeping watch); for picking me up from my horrible eighth grade dance experience, not letting me wallow in despair and assuring me that I was pretty and that boys were “just dopey” (the Baskin-Robbins 31 Flavors ice cream soda really helped, too). Thank you for using that prized second ticket to take me to the 1974 Rose Bowl, and for getting me a library card—at that time and place, my ticket to learning about the world.