Lessons from My Father

Content warning for mentions of alcoholism and emotional abuse.

Things My Father Taught Me

  • Star Wars and Star Trek are great and you can like both. You can swing both ways. There’s no need to choose.

  • It is never too early to learn new concepts and vocabulary. You can hear about negative numbers in third grade and understand the concept if your dad explains it right. You can learn so many words that you start getting fifth grade words for your spelling test in third grade, because you love to read and your parents always encourage you to do so.
  • You can be deeply in love with someone who gets drunk and says mean things to the children you had together sometimes. Sometimes commitment means telling your kids how hard their mom works and that things just get hard for her sometimes and never turning to her and saying, “What the hell?” when you hear about the messed-up things she’s done, at least not in front of the kids. Loving someone means presenting a united front and never making them look bad, even when their own actions have already done that for you.
  • You can support your daughters’ endeavors and still make sexist jokes sometimes, always in an ironic way just to get a rise out of them. You will help them practice shutting down guys who say these things unironically, and you will also be unaware that the jokes cut a little too close for comfort and they hurt. You will never mean to actually hurt your daughters’ feelings.

 

Things My Father Did Not Teach Me

  • How to shave my face. I nicked myself for months before finally having some sessions cut-free, never bothering to ask my dad for advice because I couldn’t imagine him wanting to give it to the person who was once his eldest daughter.
  • How to handle existing in the world being seen as female when the world squashes down femaleness and femininity.
  • How to handle wanting to stand in solidarity with women and feeling like a traitor when you realize that you are not female or a woman, that on some days you would go to the ends of the earth and fight a goddamn dragon just to feel right in your skin.
  • How to handle leaving your sister behind to experience sexism without you, promoting her to the rank of eldest daughter in your place.
  • How to handle existing in the world being seen as male when you know what it’s like being on the other side of things. How to handle being treated as a comrade by men when five years ago they might have sexually harassed you instead. How to handle feeling disgusted with yourself for the relief you feel when you are treated as yourself.
  • How to reconcile never wanting to let your past experiences go (because they are the bedrock of your life and the place where you come from and you will never be ashamed of being your father’s child, daughter or son) with the fact that sometimes you just want to live in the moment and not be defined by a designation at birth you had no control over.
  • How to handle knowing that if you had just been born differently, your father would have taught you how to shave your face, not a WikiHow article.
  • How to handle knowing that you would never change the way you were born even if you want badly to be your father’s son in his eyes, because your experiences would be different and you might become a completely different person. I didn’t like being told to cross my legs and act like a lady as I grew up, but I wouldn’t have liked being told to man up and stop crying either. The gender binary cuts deep for everyone, and maybe in some ways it cuts my father just as deeply as it cuts me.
  • How to handle knowing that you will never get mad at or blame your father for not knowing how to handle your transition, because sometimes you don’t know how to handle it either.

 

This writing is based off an exercise from page 69 of The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing.

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