My dad is not a feminist. His sole use for a stove is to light his cigarettes. He only uses our microwave to warm his coffee. Other than that, unless it involves fixing them, he wants nothing to do with either. He recently learned how to use the coffeemaker but regularly forgets to change the grounds when making a new pot. He calls grown women “girl” in English but “señorita” in Spanish—it’s probably a translation thing, but the truth is my dad could care less about the difference because in his own words, he is not a feminist. He once told me I wasn’t ready to get married because I made a pasta dish that tasted awful. He ate it anyway, but see, he’s not a feminist. He won’t eat his meals unless it’s served for him, warm not hot, with a napkin, a drink, room for his toothpick and the necessary utensils. He won’t make himself a sandwich and doesn’t do laundry because, well, he is not a feminist. When my mom and I went to Europe for two weeks he went to my Grandma’s house every evening for dinner and had my uncle order him lunch every day at work—he did make his own coffee—but don’t be confused, he’s still not a feminist.
My first job was as his assistant mechanic, handing him tools and letting the air out of tires. My wage was 2 dollars a day and lunch. He taught me how to hold the flashlight at the perfect angle, the name of all the tools—in Spanish—and how to use them. He let me get dirty at the shop and pretended I was helping instead of getting in the way. All through my childhood he wouldn’t leave my brother and I home alone or with a baby sitter on Saturdays. He made us go to work with him and my mom so we could at the very least be together in the same place for a full day. But way back then even, he was never a feminist.
He pulled me out of ESL classes and made me bring my math book home on Fridays so he could teach me the lessons ahead of time. See according to him, math was important especially for a girl, but he wouldn’t say this kind of thinking was feminist. I hope he never sees me try to split a bill without a calculator though, he’d shake his head at all the house he spent with me at our kitchen table 😉 He never insisted I learned to clean the house with my mom and grandma’s attention to detail. He never made me stay in the kitchen and learn my mom’s secret to making the perfect rice and salsa. He never kicked me out of the living room when he was watching sports to help the ladies in the kitchen, but don’t be confused, this does not make him a feminist.
He pushed me to focus solely on school and to learn as much as possible from elementary through the bar exam. He never suggested I trade my books for pans and a broom. Although after some failed dinner attempts and a college and law school diet made up of 75% pepperoni pizzas, he probably wishes he had—however, he would never call his failure to domesticate me, feminism.
He taught me how to change a tire, check my air pressure and never miss an oil change. He showed me how to find a stud, use a drill, patch drywall, build furniture without directions and how to go back and fix it when I failed without them…He taught me calluses from work are a good thing and I always feel a little proud whenever I get one on my hand. But…I still wouldn’t say he’s a feminist.
He made me watch the news every night at 9 p.m. to discuss politics and societal issues. He could never understand how women–who make up half of this country’s population–couldn’t seem to unite and stop voting against their own interests since feminism exists. He always said and still says, “how come women don’t realize how powerful they really are?” but he’d never call that kind of ideology feminist.
In high school we had one of many serious conversations telling me he’d rather take me himself to get an abortion than see me give up on my future aspirations. He constantly reminded me how much bigger and better life could be compared to the life I was living then–which was pretty great on its own–and if I just gave myself an opportunity I could go anywhere. He told me how birth control was necessary and effective, but how pregnancy was the least scariest risk of having unprotected sex. He assured me that an abortion is not killing a baby or a sin against “God,” that my future and my life were the most important things to consider. He made it clear, if I ever had to make that decision but didn’t want to tell him that that was ok too, but that he’d always support my, and every woman’s right to choose. He never could quite understand how men thought they could have any say in legislation over a woman’s body. He finds it laughable when lawmakers insist sex is only for procreation and insists that type of thinking might be part of their problem. But even with all of that, I still don’t think he’d call himself a feminist.
He taught me to treat everyone the same from a janitor to a celebrity regardless of race, gender or orientation, that alone though, doesn’t make him a feminist. He explained to me that turning to crime may not always be right but there’s a disproportionate lack of opportunity that plagues black and brown communities, and how that was unfair. So, I should never judge or feel superior because I didn’t have to take that path, but he has never considered himself a feminist or even an activist.
He showed me how to always be aware of your surroundings and keep a car length distance from the car in front of you in case something pops off you always have enough room to make a move. He drilled into my brother and I to keep our hands on the steering wheel if you get pulled over and don’t move without permission. See he always understood we aren’t perceived the same as other people who get pulled over. But I think he would refer to this as survivalism as oppose to anything else.
When my long-term relationship began to fall apart he mostly kept silent. Then one dark night, he held my face and said “this is not love and ending it is not failure, it’s a small price to pay in the long run you’ll see.” And with those words I called off my engagement for good, and he never said a negative thing about it. He probably wouldn’t say he’s a feminist because of that though. He and my mom helped me and Chopper move and furnish the solo apartments that followed and assured me that my new life would be just as happy as the one I left behind, even when it didn’t always look that way. That was no surprise because my mom is indeed a feminist. But, he told me time and time again, that my value wasn’t dictated by a relationship or finding “the one,” but I bet he doesn’t consider that sort of thinking feminist.
He reminded me that anyone can get married but not everyone can finish college and law school and pass the bar and find a job…and raise a 75+ pound pitbull with a bad-itude. He repeated to me that my value is calculated by who I am not who I’m with. He never let me forget that my happiness was dependent on me alone. He never urged me to marry young (or at all), have children or become more domestic. He always encouraged me to take some time to enjoy my life. He always reminded me that time will pass no matter what we do, but enjoying it is what’s important. And see, here is the thing, he taught my brother all those same exact things too.
So yes, my old school, Mexican-accent, toothpick having, atheist believing, refusing to learn how to cook or wash clothes Dad is absolutely without a doubt, not a feminist, and truthfully, at times, he doesn’t even fully grasp racism or sexism. But somewhere in his upbringing he decided to not be a misogynist or a sexist either and because of that he and his wifey/my mom made ME A FEMINIST.
I guess that just goes to show, you don’t have to be a part of the movement to respect it and you certainly don’t have to commit to oppose it simply because you don’t understand it. You can fall sweetly in the middle and still support its cause and goals simply by committing to be a good person.
Note: I wrote letters to my mom and dad as a kid when I felt like I couldn’t express what I wanted to say in person, as I got older when my dad could tell I couldn’t get my words out, he’d ask me to write it to him. It’s been a while since I wrote to him, but I let him read this piece before I posted it–I’ve had some issues in the past in posting things (my thoughts or experiences) without getting the other person(s)’ involved permission–so, I asked if it was OK for me to share. His response was a simple string of texts from my mom’s phone, “of course you can post it, it’s your truth and you always write beautiful words to me, you don’t have to ask for my permission to write about what you feel, by the way this is ur dad.”