College graduation, way back when.
Last week at a Kundalini yoga workshop, a memory from my distant past popped into mind. We’d been asked to write about a time in our early lives when we felt that our voices had not been heard, and then to write about a time in our childhood when we felt respected.
I immediately thought of my father, who was a conservative Republican, a Nixon man, and a supporter of the Vietnam War. During my teen years there were plenty of arguments around our dining room table; arguments about interracial dating, about war, peace protests, capitalism, and about the holes in my favorite blue jeans (which my father actually threatened to throw away, though he never managed it). Had my dad not been extremely proper, he would also have argued about my lack of a bra. But this was something we did not discuss. During those years I often felt as if my opinions were falling on deaf ears; it seemed to me that no matter what I said to my father about politics and the turbulent times in which we lived, he disagreed.
When the Kent State shootings occurred and college students were struck down and killed by our own National Guard, I was outraged. I remember sobbing over the news, unable to pull myself away from John Filo’s unforgettable photo of a teenaged girl crouching in anguish next to the body of a felled student.
Already a writer (I’d known this would be my profession since the age of five), my first impulse was to pen a letter to the editor of my hometown newspaper. When I announced my intention, my father sat me down at the dining room table. I was expecting a lecture. Or at least, a fight.
Instead Dad pulled up a chair next to me and said, “Here's a pen and paper--let’s get going. I’ll help you write it.”
The thing about my dad, you see, was that though he disagreed with my opinion, he supported my right to express myself. I was never told to be quiet, or to shut up. I was never told that my opinion didn’t matter, or that I should keep my thoughts to myself.
In that moment at my dining room table, I realized that Dad did hear everything I’d been saying over the years, and he did respect and support my voice, even when he disagreed.
I remember the warmth, the relief, and the honored feeling of that moment, when I knew for certain that my father would always stand by me, no matter what.
And so he did until the day he died. My father’s love—and his support of my independent nature--was one of the greatest blessings of my life.