Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A personal note...

"I feel sorry for the boy who tries to take advantage of her." 
- Tom McClain, my father, when asked if he really thought it was a good idea to let me go on a weekend ski trip with my boyfriend my sophomore year of high school.

This. This, this, this. 

My dad told me about this conversation about week after it had happened. Somehow the topic came up with someone at work, and when that person questioned my dad's fatherly judgement, his response was perfect. He told me about it, chuckling, and we both had a good laugh. 

That quote exemplifies all of the things that I think my parents got right when I was growing up, which I happen to think was a lot. I am, of course, a bit biased.

Allow me to elaborate.

My dad grew up with a sister, she was older than he was by a few years, and my grandfather, in his younger days, was quite sexist (a facet of his personality that he appeared to have been cured of by the time I was born). According to both my father and his sister, they were never treated equally and my aunt always resented it. She resented my grandfather, and she resented my father.

Fast forward to my birth. I am the youngest of four, but my two oldest siblings are half siblings and so don't enter into this particular equation. My full brother is two years older than I am and the equation is simple: everything my brother gets = everything I get. A standing order of equality no matter what. Since my half siblings are quite a bit older I don't know if they had the same kind of deal, and I never asked, but when it came to my brother and I my dad was adamant: We would have the same opportunities at everything. 

He was as good as his word. Of course, my mom was on board with all of this and in fact was the executor of most. I can't remember all the earliest examples. In fact, all of the examples I can remember are in retrospect because while this rule was in place my whole life, I never found out about it until I was in college. Examples that stand out in my mind are the following: I am 5 years old and my parents sign us both up for soccer and t-ball;  I'm 10 years old, and my brother is twelve. My brother wants to learn Karate. I say "ooh, that sounds fun. Me too!" So we learn Karate together; In the same year my brother wants to learn to play lacrosse and sign up for a rec league in our town. "Me too, me too!" So we sign up for lacrosse. At first I play women's lacrosse, but quickly realize there is no body checking. I decide that's lame. I want to play men's lacrosse. So my dad signs me up for my brother's team and we play together; I am thirteen and my brother is 15. My dad sends us both to Wabun, a camp where teenagers canoe in the Canadian wilderness for six weeks straight. We are always assigned the same house chores, and afforded the same allowance, there is no distinction made based on gender, and I grow up thinking that I am just as tough as my brother.

We won the championships that year! :-)

My mom leads by example. She is a beautiful woman, and has always cared about her appearance, something that I have rebelled against my entire life... but she is also strong, intelligent and empowered. She was the highest ranking female executive at TWA before she left it to go run Hertz Rent a Car. She was always the person at home who fixed things, built things, and painted things. Her favorite thing to say is, "How hard can it be?" Nothing is impossible to her. 

My mom, looking impossibly beautiful the day I was born.

Both my parents always told me that I could be anything, that I could do anything, that there were no restrictions on who I was based on my gender or any other part of my identity. 

Consequently, every encounter that I've ever had with sexism my whole life has always come as a bit of shock. Though, I'm sad to say, I've grown used to most of it by now. Still, it doesn't generally occur to me to worry about going out at night because I'm a woman. Or to feel uncomfortable in a man's presence because he's larger than me. 

If you tell me I can't do something, that makes me all the more likely to try it.

Granted, much of that can be attributed to the fact that I spent hours of my childhood kneeing a six foot tall and half again as wide, grown man in the balls as he covered himself with a cup and pillow yelling at me to do it harder. No, that's nothing kinky, that was my sensei teaching a stick thin blonde 10 year old how to defend herself in a way that would matter. I'm proud to say he eventually let me stop because I'd finally kneed him hard enough to hurt him.

It could also be attributed to me playing men's lacrosse from age 10 to age 18 and gaining countless hours of experience laying guys my own age flat on their backs with nothing but my own momentum.

My point is, my parents let me do all that. Not only did they let me, they encouraged me. I once hit a guy so hard in a lacrosse game that he went flying out of bounds and they had to him help him walk off the field. It was a perfectly legal check too. No penalty. I felt bad, of course, because I'd hurt the guy, but I think my parents were secretly proud of me. They cheered their heads off until they realized the guy was injured.  

For anyone concerned that I must have been some kind of behemoth to be able to take out all of those boys playing lacrosse: this picture was taken the year I started both lacrosse and Karate.

So, when my dad told his colleague that he felt sorry for any guy who tried to take advantage of me he meant it. He and my mom raised me to be able to take care of myself, and they trusted me to be able to do so. They also trusted my judgement.

My favorite thing about that quote is that it implies that it's my choice whether or not a guy is "taking advantage of me." If he is I'll take care of it, and if he's not that's my decision. Would any of my dad's colleagues have gotten their panties in a bunch if he'd told them his son was taking his girlfriend on a weekend trip? Possibly, I suppose, depending on how prudish they are, but far less likely, and certainly for different reasons.

It's such a beautifully executed plan when you think about it... Raise your daughter just like a son, treat her like a human being who is capable of taking care of herself, and then trust her to actually take care of herself. 

I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Thank you, mom and dad. Thank you.


  1. That was highly entertaining. And that photo was easily one of the most glamorous post-birth pictures I've ever seen; your mother was looking fabulous as well. ;)

    1. Yay! Glad you enjoyed it! There's another picture that goes with that one where I'm screaming my head off and my mom it's making the same face. Very cute, but not as glamorous so I didn't post it. Proof that we're human though.