Show Me the Way

Happy March! It’s National Women’s Month! It’s International Women’s Day! What a treat to see my newsfeed filled with so many  posts of inspiring women to break up the highly volatile political landscape.

In February I read “I Am Malala” and it was a much different experience than I was expecting. I had minimal context about Malala Yousafzai as a person and as I read I learned more about her culture and surroundings than her personal story and activism. Comparing this reading experience to January’s –  I found when reading Elizabeth Warren’s book I had the context of the political climate she was writing from and could visualize myself in it and with Malala I was too young when the taliban rose to power and I have never lived outside of a developed country so I was unable to fully put myself Malala’s her shoes.

I’m still figuring out this blogging venture and have realized it’s going to become a lot more personal than I expected. The goal was always to relate the events in the books and the female experiences to my modern life as an average young woman in the world, but while reading I’ve learned so much about my unique personal story that I need an outlet for my emotions and thoughts. Here we are! I’ll continue to share my opinions on the world with a critical eye, but the content will be more personal inspired by what I’m reading versus analyses of the books themselves. Writing is a wave and I’m just riding it.

With all of that said let’s dig into “I Am Malala”. Malala was quite young in the book and shared a lot about her school years and her relationship with her parents. For those who are not familiar, Malala grew up in Pakistan during the rise of the taliban and became an advocate for female education at a young age and as a result she was shot in an assassination attempt. She went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and continues her efforts in with the Malala Fund today. Her father owned schools and at a time when daughters were viewed as highly inferior to sons, Malala’s father encouraged her education. As the taliban grew, females were banned from going to school and rules restricting how women existed in society were enforced on an extreme level. From what they wore to who had to escort them, few choices were fully up to women. Malala fought for her place in society and should be an inspiration to anyone who feels they can’t accomplish something due to their circumstances.

I was slapped in the face by my privilege, never having to worry whether I could go to school because of my gender, never having to move due to active threats against my family, never having to find a male relative to escort me when I wanted to go out on the town. Another topic that hit me page after page was how Malala’s relationship with her father impacted how she viewed and presented herself. The majority of this post willl recount and relate the relationship I had with me father and the story of my biggest failure. I know it’s odd and not of the moment to be writing about a man on a day celebrating women, but I am feeling empowered to share a personal story and will relate it to the day, I promise.

Male Figures
I’m not a man-hating feminist. In fact, I’d argue men are some of feminists’ greatest allies. Malala’s father could have easily put her in the conservative box and not encouraged her education. She could have easily never attended school, never learned to read, never traveled from her hometown. In her culture it was up to the father figure to make the decision on how his daughters would live. It takes a special person to defy society standards. Malala has a spirit that would have thrived despite her encouraging household, but her father definitely helped make it possible. It made me think about myself and who I would be without the influence of my own father.

Reading “I Am Malala” I related a lot to her relationship with her father and finally felt ready to share my own story, which I do below. As I mentioned I think men are some of feminists’ greatest allies and that starts with fathers. Society projects its own gender roles, but starting in the home young girls see their own truth. Mothers are just as important as fathers in creating this truth. My point here is, the father daughter relationship is unique and highly influential. Without my father pushing me in math class I probably would have believed I was bad at it because I was a girl. Without my father letting me take part in games with the older boys, I probably would have felt more nervous in a 60%+ male business school in college. The small nuances and seemingly unimportant moments are what shaped my tenacity. So here goes, a big story on a big day.

The Untold Story
I don’t talk openly about my dad often. I’ve only shared his whole story with the few most dear to me. Though recently, I’ve learned to be more transparent and expressive. When reading about the relationships between Malala and her family I felt compelled to share my own story on a large (I mean like 5 people will probably read this) or at least public platform.

I grew up with a built in best friend. At social gatherings, if my dad was throwing a football around I was right there. If I heard he was going to the driving range, I tagged along. He took me to Michigan football games. He took me on trips to amusement parks where we rode the biggest fastest rides. He helped me with science fair projects. I played air soft guns with him and the boys in youth group. I had my own toolkit and helped him in the garage. I grilled with him on the back patio in the summer. We went to the gym together. We play fought (because I was always trying to prove I was as strong as him.) He teased me, I teased him. A lot of these things could be considered “boy” activities but I never knew that was their perception.

I lived my life in a somewhat gender blind mindset. Nothing was off limits (except that one time I tried to join the football team and even then I could have if I REALLY fought for it.) That’s because both of my parents allowed me to express myself. My dad let me in on typically boy things and also went dress shopping with me. My mom watched football with us and also taught me to cook. Although my parents lived along traditional gender roles, somewhere in the trickle down I felt comfortable bending those same norms.

My dad died August 4th, 2010. That’s the only detail most people know. He started his hospital battle on April 2, Good Friday. 124 days before. It was so fast and I was so naive.

My dad went in for a normal surgery in April. Then things went awry. I was 17 and optimistic, not paying too much attention to the details. It started with a problem with his blood and things went on a roller coaster from there. He was transferred from our hometown hospital to Indianapolis and back and then back to Indianapolis and then back – I honestly don’t know how many times. There were few answers and a continuous stream of new questions.

In three months I only visited the hospital three times. I said it was because I hated hospitals, which I do, but subconsciously I’m sure it was because I didn’t want to see my dad helpless. The first visit was before what was supposed to be the original surgery. Second, before his first emergency flight to Indianapolis. Finally, while driving through Indy on my way to compete in DECA nationals. Each time staying only a few minutes. Note the last time was in May. He was home for about a month in the summer and it was great to have him, but he was a shell of himself. The strongest and smartest man I knew could barely get out of a chair by himself. I knew he was trying to show a brave face but for the first time I saw doubt in his eyes. He was working to regain strength at physical therapy and even went back to work but months of bedrest and sedation takes a toll. I always thought I wanted to be as strong as him, but I had never imagined being stronger than him. Despite this new normal, he was home and I still thought everything would be fine.

My final trip back to the hospital I was still reluctant. I received a phone call from a family friend telling me she needed to come over when I got home from cheerleading practice. I cried at school with a few friends because I instantly knew something was wrong. I met Deanna at my house. She sat me down and for the first time I heard that things were not going to be okay. I think this is when they had finally figured out that he was battling a rare autoimmune disease antiphospholipid syndrome which triggered lupus. Honestly, I never understood medically what was happening. Deanna explained that we had an indefinite amount of time left but they would take me to Indianapolis to be with my mom, sister, and dad that day and we would stay until things got better. I packed a bag to stay for a week –  still thinking things WOULD get better.

After a 2 hour drive I arrived to a doctor not allowing me into the room. I’ve never been one to take no for an answer when I want something and pleaded and pushed the doctor to let me in to no avail. Frustrated, I went to the bathroom hoping those few minutes would be enough time for them to fix the current problem and let me in the room. Instead, I opened the bathroom door to see Deanna and she let me know it was over. Falling to the floor I had no control. I was too late. I got no goodbye. I had no last visit. I had so many unanswered questions. I immediately feared for my future without him. I gave no goodbye.

I felt overwhelmingly selfish for the first time in my life. I blamed myself for not being there. I blamed myself for a long time. I actually still blame myself. I still think as his daughter, one of his favorite people, if I would have been around, if my positive energy would have been in the room, things would have turned out differently. It’s a big reason why I refuse to let any situation turn into a “what if.” It’s a big reason I don’t let anything go unsaid. That’s a pain I never want to feel again.

So I rode back home with Deanna and Tim – my mom and my sister stayed to deal with the hospital. On the way home I told a couple of people, tasking Jenna with telling the majority of our friends because saying the words were too hard for me. I rarely consider how hard that must have been, I’m grateful to still have her friendship and strength. I got home, turned on no lights, and I got in my bed. I had cheerleading practice either the day after or two days after and I showed up not having eaten anything, weak & numb, tearing up in between sets. Everyone wondered how I was there, literally lifting people over my head. My dad taught me commitment and perseverance and I wasn’t going to forget that so soon after he was gone.

In reality, I was just swallowing my emotions as I always do and putting my energy anywhere else. I baked cookies all day while my mom was out making funeral plans. My friend Jenna kindly hosted (and invited) everyone to her house so I could see my friends all at once. I stayed there until I was almost too tired to drive so I could go home and go straight to bed and avoid being alone with my thoughts. My mom came up the next morning and asked if I wanted to help with any of the arrangements – I gave another selfish no. I couldn’t face it. As much as I hated hospitals, I hated funerals more.

At the viewing I barely looked in the casket, I still didn’t want it to be real. I stood at the door, greeting everyone who arrived. Being the extroverted one of the family, this worked well. I didn’t really cry or think about anything it was just one person after another. Repeating motions. I felt a sense of pride that so many people came to support not only my father but my mom, sister, and me as well. My friends left notes on my car, I saw people who I hadn’t seen in years, my teachers came. I hung out with my friend Michael in between the morning and afternoon open call hours. I went to my friend Chase’s house later that night. It was another whirlwind day that allowed me to push my emotions to the back as I tried to be strong for the family like my dad always was, I wanted to fill his role.  I wanted to celebrate my father’s life instead of mourning it.

A few days before, I finally knew how I could be involved. I woke up one night and wrote a speech – Jerry Maguire style. It came out effortlessly and expressed our relationship. I spoke last at the funeral, still feeling sad on the inside and strong on the outside. I knew I was part of his legacy and needed to use the skills I had to live up to that responsibility. I recently found the speech I typed (check out the full transcript here). My favorite line is: “He never accepted less than my best, and always let me know when I could do better. Because of that, I have learned to strive for the top and I have learned that I can do anything as long as I try.” I’ve never forgotten these lessons and I’ve never felt any task impossible. 

The Aftermath, The Women
What people don’t know is during this time I spent about a month of my junior year in high school living alone. My mom was with my dad in Indy and despite many opportunities I refused to go. For the first time my inherently independent nature was tested. I drove myself to school, to the grocery store, to track meets, to shop for my prom dress – all alone.

Except I wasn’t alone. Looking back at the network of people who were supporting me the people who jump out were amazing women. Deanna checked that I was home safely and was eating well, a second mother of sorts. Suzanne, my wonderful AP Lang teacher made sure I knew I could come to her for anything and I spent many hours in her classroom and her home studying and now call her a friend and mentor. Jenna, one of my oldest and closest friends is one of the strongest people I know and let me vent to her or come over or drive around whenever I needed a break. And last but not least, my mom. She wasn’t occupying the same space as me but from afar was supportive making sure she was there for me and my father, something I can’t imagine balancing. She drove back and forth to be with me for the weekend and to take prom pictures. She answered my random cooking questions and always made sure I was okay by myself.

These women held me up. Today on International Women’s Day I thank them. I’ve barely shared this story with a few of  them, including my mom, but even six and a half years later I am forever indebted to the love I was shown. It’s still hard sometimes. I still have random nights of tears. That will never go away. These women and numerous others continue to inspire me to be my best self and I can only hope I’m paying it forward.

I love seeing all of the strong female examples on my timeline, the astronauts, the engineers, the athletes. After writing this, I want to be sure to also recognize the caretakers. Part of the pay gap is due to women taking more positions in “care industries.” That’s daycare, nursing, social work, stay at home mom etc and these jobs are grossly underpaid. Women literally take care of the world. Women took care of me.

I haven’t started (or chosen) my March book yet. Honestly, I’m a slow reader and have had trouble prioritizing it. So stay tuned and in the meantime check out these articles about boss ladies across the country and comment any you’ve read!

Vogue – American Women
#GirlsCount: This Is What 130 Million Girls Missing Out On Education Looks Like
Air India’s all-female crew makes history with round-the-world flight
Twitter – #IWD2017
The World’s Most Powerful Women Share Their Best Leadership Advice
Why the Defiant Girl Statue in Front of the Wall Street Bull Is So Significant
Now, More Than Ever, A Day for Women Matters
4 Life Lessons From Hillary Clinton on International Women’s Day

*Show Me the Way – Styx