What my father taught me about women
The breaking news about media and political figures accused of harassing or even attacking women seems to come now in hourly alerts. In some ways, the sheer number of men involved surprises me. Even harassment is a form of violence. Part of me, however, isn't surprised at all. I grew up in and around the media. What my father taught me about women then is what society is fighting against today.
Many people knew my father. Before his decline into alcohol and prescription drugs, and eventual suicide, he was an award-winning television producer. As a child, if I wanted to spend time with him, it meant spending time at the different stations he worked at. My favorite part was hanging around the newsroom.
What I witnessed and picked up on seemed normal as a child.
Men — white men — were the bosses and women were the assistants. Some women were reporters, but they didn't get the respect of their male counterparts. Or the pay. That was always clear.
My father would mentor younger men. He would have affairs with younger women.
There was a time I saw my father and his colleague whistling at women who walked in front of their downtown office. I told my father it wasn't right to act that way. He said women asked for it by the way they dressed.
My father was a star in his field by the time he was 20, and when he turned 40, the entire staff of the station was asked to come to the lobby for a birthday celebration. There was a stripper. I cannot imagine how his women colleagues felt.
My father and his male colleagues taught me that women were expendable, that marriage was good, but that marriage vows could always be bent — for men.
I was fortunate in so many ways that my mother, who ultimately divorced from my father, was in my life. She taught me to value women as equals. My mom would not tolerate sexism and instilled within me feminist ideals. What I inherited from her makes me a better husband and father.
It was also fortunate to have a grandfather and uncle to look up to. Neither would argue they were perfect. Life isn't about perfection. But both modeled for me in their marriages, and in their attitudes about women and family, a way of living that was deeply respectful of women. My uncle still does this.
I'm not perfect either. Not by any measure. No one would have to look hard to find faults. But I'm also not my father. There were good aspects of him, some things about him that I admired.
He had a difficult upbringing and the abuse he experienced as a child was revisited on me, a topic I've written and spoken about before. I look a lot like him but hope very much that whatever I learned that was morally corrupt from him was unlearned and appropriately rejected.
For whatever good there might be in me, I give thanks to my mother, grandfather, and uncle — not to mention my wife and the many women I've worked with, been taught by, and worked for.
My father died many years before my daughters were born. Sometimes they ask about him and say they wish they had known him. I do not believe that, had he lived, I would have ever introduced him to my children, however.
I hope that in this period of revelation — this whirlwind of the #MeToo movement — that all of us, particularly men, reflect on what we have been taught and what we are passing now to our sons and daughters.
We can do better.