Guest Post: Dear Dad: Thank you for making me a Feminist

Today’s guest post literally moved me to tears.  I was sitting, waiting for the train after the last Chicago Feminist Tweetup when I first read it, and it was so powerful and honest, I just had to share it with you here.  It’s about relationships and feminism, but in a different way – which I really like because relationships don’t just have to mean boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and partners.  Relationships with all people, especially family members, help shape our definitions of feminism from a very young age, and help shape our relationships with other people as we grow older.  I’m sure almost all of you can relate to Laura’s words here, so, without further ado, here it is.

My father was found dead the morning of June 3, 2010. It’s a complicated loss I will try to spend a lifetime attempting to define and understand. After all, we didn’t have a lot of Hallmark moments filled with perfectly expressed love or even understanding. Most of our interactions were a tense game of seesaw; one of us angry and the other one silently judging. He was the volcano I tiptoed around as a child. I remember his loud snore, his drunken stumble, and his violence that would often erupt.

After my parents’ divorce I spent my teenage years shuffling between the poverty of a single-mother household and the opulence of a well-off and uncommitted Father. As a young woman trying to make sense of this culture’s expectations, I didn’t know how to talk to a father whose ideas of gender were rigidly binary. I remember our ‘father daughter’ talk, when I was sixteen, started with a racist tirade against Jesse Jackson – only a tad more topical in 1995 – and ended with, “I would rather die than have a woman president.”

Following my teen years we saw each other less and less. My father knew I was liberal and ‘politically active’ but never sought to discuss specifics, only to make sweeping, nonsensical statements that he knew would make me mad. More like the older sibling goading on the younger child every conversation followed the same premise: “Laura is a reactionary, look at how quickly she gets upset.” Our interactions quickly became stories my friends loved hearing because the only way I could process my father saying lewd things about my body while claiming to compliment my tattoo was to turn it all into a big joke.

Growing up in poverty, surviving parental bullying and domestic violence certainly shaped my slowly raising consciousness. Also, I can’t help but see how my love of ‘taking a stand’ was made easier by such an outlandish parent. Nowadays it takes a lot for someone to get a reaction out of me. After all, I’ve heard it all before.

A couple of months before my father died we got into yet another fight about my perceived ‘oversensitivity’ to his racist humor and I stood my ground telling him he had to respect my lived experience. What was different than all of those times before was that he did. Not only did he admit defeat in the rehashed battle, he continued by saying that he was proud of all that I had accomplished in my life.

I don’t hold any delusions that if he lived longer he could have been the father I so desperately wanted any more than I could become the daughter that would have been his perfect match. Our relationship was never easy, but I still miss him as much as any child can miss a parent. I can say with confidence and certainty that my father’s influence and contrarian personality has made me the feminist, loud-mouthed-activist that I am today.

Laura Craig Mason is the feminist podcaster for Fully Engaged Feminism, and who is lucky enough to blog occasionally at RHReality Check. “Offline” Laura participates in DC feminist activism & conference organizing. Not too proud to still live in the suburbs of the capitol Laura strives every day to make the world a little better by talking about feminism with anyone who will listen.

This was a guest post in a series on feminism and relationships, but is also about the author’s relationship with feminism! If you’d like to submit a guest post for this series, see the guidelines here and submit your post to samsanator(at)gmail(dot)com.

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