Dad wanted sons, it’s clear in hindsight. What he got was me and Lucy.(1)
Being a good dad, he never said – at least within my hearing – that he really wanted sons. He never said it to my mother within my hearing either.
But there were subtle signs. He gave us boys’ nicknames, for example. Lucy was Buddy and I was Cubby, after the cute little boy Mouseketeer.(2)
Dad would roughhouse with us. He took us to the rifle range and taught us to shoot. He wanted me to grow up to be an engineer. Lucy was determined to be either a jockey or a veterinarian neither of which was a realistic goal, but he left her to her fantasies and decided that I should follow in his footsteps.(3) My mother finally convinced him not to try talking me out of my goal of being a teacher, but by the time she succeeded I had already given it up.(4)
Dad was no feminist though.(5) He just wanted children that he could engage in his guy pursuits with. He wasn’t a sports fan, but he encouraged – no, positively enabled – any interests or hobbies I had that were even quasi-military.(6) I liked archery, fencing, and martial arts. He would buy me all the equipment or accessories I needed. One Christmas he even gave me a Black Widow model slingshot. It had a spiffy wrist brace so that you could get a steady aim and a stronger pull. I don’t think I ever used it, but if I had wanted to I could have put a ball bearing through the side of the garage.
Lucy and I were what they called tomboys back then – me more than Lucy.(7) My mother still got a chance to indulge girlier whims. Every Easter would find us dressed in ruffled pink organdy with frills and itchy headbands adorned with fruit or flowers. Little white patent leather shoes and little white ankle socks were also required, as was the taking of pictures in front of the house.(8)
Despite the occasional attempt at girliness, Lucy and I were not indoctrinated into the prevailing feminine ideals. For example, neither of my parents ever even hinted that I should hide my brains so as not to scare off the boys. In fact, they encouraged me to show off my smarts in some fairly obnoxious ways. I always knew college was my destiny, but I never got the impression that marriage and motherhood were also expected. It came as a surprise to everyone – most of all me – when I did acquire a husband.
Perhaps not surprisingly, that husband turned out to have a combination of male and female traits himself. He bonded with my father by replacing his shocks and with my mother by gardening. He has a background in private-duty nursing and has often had women for bosses.(9) I don’t know that much about his upbringing, but I do know it left him flexible and understanding about the limits of gender roles. I know even less about Lucy’s husband, but I think it’s probably significant that he drives for Meals on Wheels, another sort of caretaking.
In a way I feel sorry for the girls I see who are raised to be princesses in pink. It’s so limiting. We were raised not as girls, not as boys, not as girly boys or boyish girls, but as children (10), who came from male and female, and carried bits of both inside us. And I can’t speak for Lucy, but I think the experience has served me well.
(1) That’s not her real name, but I may occasionally say unflattering things about her and want to cover my bets. And my ass.
(2) Admittedly these were better than the nicknames one guy on a reality show gave his little daughters – Truck and Tank. But ours were still just a wee bit butch.
(3) He was an industrial engineering technician, and since I was destined for college, that made me the obvious choice. I suppose I could have become an engineer, but I would have been a very unhappy one.
(4) There were much more exciting things to be, like a bus driver, a chemist, an FBI agent, or a poet.
(5) When I decided to keep my own name – well, his name, really – after marriage, he quoted that bit to me about the man is head of the woman as Christ is head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23).
(6) He considered “The Caissons Go Rolling Along” to be a fun, catchy children’s song.
(7) I don’t know what they call tomboys now. Just girls, I think. Or maybe children with non-conforming gender identity norms. If you’re a sociologist, I mean.
(8) Some of these pictures may still exist, but you’re not going to see them here.
(9) Not to imply I’m bossy or anything.
(10) It could have been worse. When we were out and about in the neighborhood Dad would whistle to call us back home. I suppose we could have turned out to be dogs.