Family & Friends · Lifestyle

My Father: The Myth and the Man Over Time

America loves its father myths. Many belong to our sons, and involve common redemption. Often these stories involve war, or honor, or the day when somebody has to “man up.”

But women have fathers, too. And over the years, we too grow into that relationship.

My particular father is a professor. A formidable, 6-foot-3-inch professor of English literature at Stanford University  He’s 80 now, and retired.

We were four children, in my family of origin. At the dinner table, Dad presided over spelling bees and discussions of time travel. He drove the morning carpool, dropping us off at school before all the other kids so he could get to work on time. Northern California mornings can be cold. There was shivering.

I was 8, I believe, the day I forgot my sweater at home. “Dad,” I said, from the back of the car, “I forgot my sweater.”

My father was a scary man. Tall. Handsome. Very good hair. To this day I’m scared of handsome. He turned, and said to me, “Stupid girl! You stupid, stupid girl!” Or so I remember. I believe we retrieved my sweater. It was probably a navy cardigan.

That was 46 years ago. I love my father very much. This is not a story of a bad dad punished by fate.

Over time, I tested my stupidity. Or lack thereof. I  found my place in the corporate world with brilliant software guys. The type who call you stupid all the time, then offer undying loyalty when you show them that you’re not.

Meanwhile, my father stood by his adult children through all the vicissitudes of life, and never called us stupid again.

It was not good that my dad called me stupid. Nobody should use those words, in that tone of voice, to little girls. But I was rewarded, occasionally, by my resultant humility. It helps to approach the world knowing you could always be wrong.

Recently, in an odd turn of events, Dad’s been working for me, albeit as a volunteer. I write a blog, about style, culture and the artifacts of privilege, called, not so oddly, Privilege. I write mostly about clothing. Dad emailed me last year, asking if I couldn’t use the blog to show some of the more elevated aspects of our shared background, analysis more piercing than the hows and whys of navy cashmere.

So I asked him to write for me, about literature. Being a professor and all.

He agreed. And now this 80-year-old formerly tenured professor, with a university chair in his name, lets me post his writing on a blog that also covers vintage jewelery and the real rules of office-appropriate nail polish. He submits his work to me. I could say no.

Don’t underestimate the related epiphanies.

I come from a buttoned-up culture. We’re loathe to display emotion. Not for us the big family fight, climactic confession, teary reconciliation. On the other hand, we show up on time. Father’s Day comes every single year.

None of us, no matter the culture, spring like Athena from our father’s foreheads, fully formed, as in the only father-daughter myth I know. No one is born a creature of the mind, no one arrives complete.

Maybe all father-daughter relationships have their share of early mistakes. Both pain and sorrow can be redeemed by a growing gentleness on one side, a growing confidence on the other, and the simple act of staying in touch.

Happy Father’s Day.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.