Friday, November 14, 2014

Acting Like My Father

Years ago I saw a sitcom where one woman is accused of acting like her father.  "Oh my God," she gasps.  "I've been trying so hard to not become my mother--I never saw THAT coming!"  I laughed with recognition.

My words, my moods, my mannerisms--all my mom's.  Even the ways I'm not like her are defined by her.  "Mom would never let her kitchen get this messy."  And yet, my dad seeps through in odd moments.  My family sits down to eat dinner; I pop back up to turn out the lights in other rooms, and remember my dad doing the same.  I walk along slick pavement, and despite the cold, pull my hands out of my pockets "in case I fall," responding to a lifetime of warnings.  As a parent, I finally understand why sucking on the last bit of drink through my straw, or sniffing repeatedly without ever going to get a kleenex both drove him nuts.

My dad gave me many gifts. My love of mountains.  An appreciation for late afternoon's "sweet light."  Wanderlust.  He was a great model for how to maintain friendships and how to enjoy life's simple pleasure.  When I turned 18 he told me, "Vote for any party you want, but always support schools, parks, and libraries."  His quirks and talents and lessons are woven into my life.

As I started to learn about the concept of white privilege during the past few years, I've come to realize that I already was aware that it existed, because my suburban, middle-class white dad pointed it out to me throughout my life.  I knew his friend Nick didn't like to come visit us because in our neighborhood, he was likely to get pulled over for Driving While Black.  I knew that one of the only times my dad ventured from photography into writing was when his friend Max was mistaken for "a Jap" in a small Idaho town where they were covering a mining disaster, and was told to be out of town by sundown or be found face-down in a river.  (This was a good 15 years after WWII ended, and Max is actually Hispanic.)  My dad was outraged, and wanted to shine as much publicity on the event as possible.  He told me about attending high school in the late 1940s, and how the black kids came in the back door.  At the time, he figured everyone went in the doorway closer to their own neighborhood, but a few years out of high school, with a few years in the city newsroom under his belt, he wised up, and was ashamed of his complacent naivety.

"You know," I told him a few years ago, "some people think we don't have any more racism, because we elected Obama."

He sputtered for a moment.  "People are idiots!" he finally got out.  "Just because it's not a problem for THEM, they think it's not a problem."  Which is probably the most succinct definition of privilege there is.

Another time he sighed, "If I hate bigots, does that make me a bigot?"

He was a product of his time and place, as we all are.  He had his prejudices and blind spots, as we all do.  He strove to see people clearly, to value others as they are, and to not mistake his own experience for universal experience.   When he died last February, he left behind literally thousands of top notch photographs.  His more important legacy is what he taught his girls about being human.

With all four daughters at his 80th birthday 2012

Dancing with my mom at a friend's wedding ca. 2002

On a mountain climb ca: 1950

At an artist's reception 2012

Supervising my niece ca 1995

On a photography outing 2011

Us on top of Mt. Hood 1984

Dancing together at my friend's wedding 1990
This has been a "Finish the Sentence Friday" post.  The prompt was "The best advice my dad ever gave me..."  Link up here!


  1. Your Dad had some great talents: both advice and photography! I'm especially drawn by that picture of him mountain climbing in 1950; he looks so calm and in control. I also respect his vision of the world and what is right. It is inspiring!

    1. Thank you! Mountains were a huge part of his life.

  2. What a beautiful post and tribute to your father! Here's to amazing fathers teaching their children about being human. I hate bigots, too. I don't think that makes us bigots though, right? Thanks so very much for linking this up with finish the sentence - I love it!

  3. Oh Wendy I am so moved by this post. What a guy your dad was. The photos you included are so evocative. You must miss him terribly.
    Today is municipal elections day in my province and your dad's advice to "Vote for any party you want, but always support schools, parks, and libraries" could not be more apt. There were at least 5 parks to be voted on in my ballot. And yes, I voted for all 5.