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It was the summer after my senior year of high school and my Dad told my sister, brother and I to keep the following Friday free. He didn’t tell us more than that, just that it was a surprise and to keep the day free. When we piled into the car at 7am, we saw that it was already outfitted with corn nuts—our road trip food of choice and so we assumed we were going on a road trip of some kind. Imagine my surprise when instead, we pulled into the parking lot of the high school I had just graduated from, five minutes away.
I didn’t really understand what was happening. 7:20 came, when the first bell would ring and he made us say the pledge of allegiance and have the moment of silence that began each day at this school. He took us up to the front doors and made us hold a poster without looking at the words on it. He took a picture of our confused faces and then said we could finally look. We read the words and busted up laughing.
We were embarking on the legendary “Philly Cheesesteak Challenge.” It was something I had been talking about wanting to do the entire school year, but could never convince my friends to go with me. Here’s the challenge: drive to the school for the morning bell, then leave our town in Fairfax, VA and drive all the way to Philadelphia, PA to the original place where the Philly Cheesesteak was invented. Then you must eat a cheesesteak on site–you have to stop and savor the whole thing–before driving all the way back down to the high school in Virginia before the final bell of the day rings at 2:05pm.
We jumped in the car and the race was on. My dad had prepared a “Top Secret” envelope for each of us to read out loud during the drive. They contained everything from the history of the cheesesteak to the proper way to order to 175 hilarious reviews of Pat’s King of Steaks, which was our destination.
We made it to Pat’s, we ordered the sandwiches and ate them properly sitting at the outdoor tables and hustled back to Fairfax, arriving with four minutes to spare. I wrote eleven [heavily illustrated] pages in my journal about this one little outing, but the key is in the last paragraph of the entry. “[Today] was an expression of pure love and this whole experience is probably the most thoughtful and heartfelt gift anyone has ever given me (who knew when I said that I’d be referring to a greasy, monstrous heart attack on a plate slathered in cheese whiz?)”
That surprise drive to Philadelphia was the result of a Dad who listened when I mentioned this crazy thing I had hoped to do. I probably only brought it up a couple of times during the school year, but he heard me and he noticed me and he taught me that what I thought about and the things I wanted, mattered.
I’ve observed a pattern in the church that we often spend Mother’s Day praising our angel mothers and Father’s Day talking about the failures of our fathers. I could write an entire article on the way we sell men short (actually, I did. Click here), but in my Father’s Day reflections I realized again how much more than a fun outing and terrible cheesesteak I owe to my angel Father.
I had a unique parental setup in my upbringing. Both of my parents worked full time, but they both worked from home so they were both always there and still often very busy. As such the domestic tasks that often fall to wives and mothers instead fell to whoever was available to do them. My Dad was equally as likely as my Mom to be the one to cook dinner, do the laundry or braid my hair so it wouldn’t get all tangled when I slept.
Not until this Father’s Day did I take the time to recognize how much it affected my sense of self and worth as a woman to watch my father step in wherever it was needed and encourage my mother to work and to continue to develop herself as a writer and an educator. He has always encouraged her to develop her sense of identity and to cultivate her God-given talents and both directly and indirectly encouraged me to do that same.
A couple of years ago I realized I had a lot of knowledge pertaining to funding student travel and he immediately said, “Well, you should write it into a book.” In the months afterwards he would check in frequently, “how’s that book coming?” “Made any more progress on that book?” (I did eventually write that book. To learn more about it, click here). He’s always been one to rush to encourage my dreams and support my desires to be disciplined and accomplished and push myself to be better.
It was watching him do the same for my mother that built the foundation of my sense that women are strong and powerful and that as a woman, my contribution is important and worthwhile. I never knew that so many of my perceptions of womanhood could be so heavily influenced by a man.
I’m not a parent yet, but I’m understanding more and more how much of the way we view the world is affecting by the picture we were given by our parents. My mother took a brush and my father took a brush and together they painted my world in a way that all the adulthood that I’ve had since couldn’t shake.
I often hear women express the ways in which they feel constricted or limited or belittled for their womanhood. I have certainly encountered the people and the conversations that could make me feel that way but by the time I was six months old my parents were already bringing me along on photo shoots for their book projects.
I don’t remember my view from my baby carrier as we spent the night at sights of the restoration so we could be there for the early morning light, but I know what it’s looked like since then. It’s been my Mom taking notes and articulating ideas while my Dad finds the most impactful way to capture those ideas in an image. He appreciates her words and she raves over his pictures. They are not interchangeable, they are dependent on the powers and talents of one another. I watched them and I knew that I could be a wife with complementary gifts to my future husband’s.
I don’t remember my dad ever sitting me down and explicitly teaching me that as a woman I was powerful and worthwhile, but he showed me that every day by the environment he created with my mother. Every child has their Philly Cheesesteak Challenge, the dreams and desires that they desperately hope someone will notice and validate. Sometimes it is within a parent’s power to facilitate their child’s desires, but more often the ultimate gift that a father can give his daughter is a belief in the strength of her own power and the courage to use it.