When I was a little girl, my dad was my hero – the person who taught me to waterski, read me stories every night before bed, told me unflinchingly where puppies came from (because that’s what I asked), grabbed me off my bicycle when I rode into oncoming traffic, and promised me I could become a scientist, just like he was.
My dad is now 93 years old, and grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska without running water or electricity. When he was a child, no one ever talked to my dad about equality, women’s rights, or girls’ education. Yet my dad always told my sister and me that we are just as smart, strong, fast, and talented as any boy. And as I grew up, my dad and mom both taught me that if a man doesn’t respect my strength, intelligence, and independence, he’s not the man for me.
My father’s guidance and words of wisdom have forever shaped my beliefs, choices, and life path:
When I was a little girl –
“You can do anything you set your mind to do.”
When I didn’t have anyone to play with –
“You can only be bored if you are boring.”
When I wasn’t getting good grades in high school –
“If you have a little less fun now, you can have a lot more fun later.”
When my first boyfriend made me cry –
“You have to set the standard of how you deserve to be treated. Anyone who doesn’t meet that standard isn’t worth your time.”
When I was debating whether to get a PhD –
“Education gives you freedom. You won’t ever regret continuing your education, but you may well regret not doing it.”
When I was getting married –
“Happiness doesn’t just happen. Happiness is a choice you make together every day.”
When I had my own daughters –
“Keep your promises. That’s all they’ll really remember anyway.”
Through his example, my father showed me that real men are kind, humble, generous, loving, and deeply respectful of women and girls. Just by being himself, my dad taught me that the only men and boys worth having in my life are the ones who see women and girls as their equal. In a world where good men are hard to find, my dad showed me what is possible, enabling me to choose a husband who loves and respects me and our own two daughters.
My dad is still my hero.
written by Denise Dunning, Founder and Executive Director of Rise Up