White men (and women) are getting a well-deserved call-out and challenge to their hegemony these days. And while I don’t want to make any claims to innocence or purity in this post, it’s Father’s Day and I want to celebrate the wonderful qualities of my Dad.
My dad is from a small, white, working-class area of the Pacific Northwest, the same area where Kurt Cobain was born. His father was a school superintendent; his grandfather was a milk delivery man. Before that, the Giles line goes back to the earliest days of the United States. Yes, the paternal line of my family has been here since the Mayflower. We are part of the white, European invasion.
In the 1960s, my dad decided to join the Peace Corps and was sent to Colombia where he married a brown, Puerto Rican Latina fellow-Peace Corps volunteer, my mother, against many of his family members’ racial preferences. When my family moved to Puerto Rico, where he still lives decades later, my dad became fluent in Spanish, something that many of the Americans on the island never did.
I have so many great stories of my father, but I’ll only say a few things today. I’m the oldest child and my father had no sons. One of the best things about my dad is that he never treated me like an incapable girl. He taught me (almost) everything he would teach a son.
My father taught me how to read and write and draw, to swim and dive, snorkel, ride a bike, drive a car, change the oil, and throw a ball “like a boy.” He taught me how to use a hammer and saw and tool safety. He taught me how to compose a photograph and use a camera. How to set up a camping tent. How to assemble a kit of anything.
Because of him, I’ll jump off high places into deep water, climb trees, and ride horses. I’ll ride in small planes and take flying lessons. I’ll white water raft, fly a trapeze in a catamaran, and walk 33 miles across Puerto Rico just for the fun and challenge. I’ll travel across the world as a woman alone without undue trepidation. I’m not afraid to have muscles and use them. I feel comfortable in my body and moving through the world, and that was a gift my father gave me. I don’t feel the need to make myself small or helpless. I wish more women were so lucky.
My dad modeled how to be curious about everything and everyone. The personality trait “openness” characterizes his approach to the world. Our family excursions were filled with diversions—the path from A to B was never straight or on time because there were far too many interesting sites to explore along the way, and too many people worth talking to, whether a street vendor or a business leader.
Intellectual pursuits were not his strong suit—I thank my mother for that—but his strengths are an unbounded interest in all aspects of the world, and an ability to connect with people. When I was ten he took me with him on a work-related trip to Greenbank, West Virginia, to the radio telescope there (he worked at the time for Arecibo Observatory). On the flight to connect in Washington, DC, we sat next to someone who worked at the Old Executive Office Building, which is adjacent to the White House. Being his gregarious self, my dad spent the entire flight chatting with this person, which ended up getting us a private airplane ride over DC as well as a private tour of the White House (the Oval Office was being vacuumed). That’s the kind of person he is.
Dad, I hope you’re taking good care of yourself. I’d like you to stay a little longer in this world. Happy Father’s Day.