In Honor of Father’s Day: A Father’s Influence upon a Feminist
Once upon a time, I had the courage to speak to a priesthood leader about several of my feminist concerns as they relate to church doctrine and culture. After quietly and patiently listening to all I had to say, this good man then asked me to share with him my feelings about my relationship with my father. I didn’t understand how the two topics were connected, and asked him why we needed to introduce my relationship with my dad into the discussion. He then told me that he had a theory (based upon his counseling experience) that all women with feminist concerns had experienced damaging, negative, or strained relationships with their fathers. And, having been denied the opportunity to emotionally connect with an earthly father, these women’s relationship with their Heavenly Father had been adversely affected, leading them to question their testimonies or church doctrine.
I was shocked as he explained his theory to me. My father has been an absolute pillar of strength, love, and support throughout my entire life. In all honesty, I attribute many of my feminist inclinations to the fact that my father treats me, and my mother and sisters, so amazingly well. Although he’d probably never publicly label himself a feminist, his world view and actual practices are more feminist than many self-proclaimed feminist women I have interacted with.
My father always taught me that I was capable of doing anything I wanted to, regardless of anything society or other people said to me. When my siblings and I came home from elementary school repeating the popular “dumb blonde” jokes of that time period, my father sat us down and explained that these jokes were sexist. As he explained it, a statement is sexist if it tries to make women feel like they aren’t as smart or as good as men are. In our home filled with very bright (and very blonde) women, the telling of demeaning blonde jokes would not be permitted. From that point onward, we helpfully pointed out any potentially-sexist remarks that our friends, teachers, and relatives might not want to repeat in the future.
I know of no better example of equal partnership than my parents’ relationship. They counsel together in all major financial, spiritual, career-related, household, familial, and other matters. When my mother decided to begin graduate school between the births of my fifth and sixth siblings, my father supported her whole-heartedly. He’d leave work early to complete the lion’s share of the meal prep, cleaning, and laundry so that my mom would have more time to study. When my mom later decided to pursue a part-time and then full-time career, there was no greater cheerleader (and at times vocal defender) than my dad. His oft-repeated motto is “Whatever makes your mother happy makes me happy.” Whether it was being a stay-at-home mom, attending graduate school, pursuing a career, or whatever else she wanted, my father was there to ensure that it happened.
I talk openly and honestly with my parents about my feminist concerns within the church. When I first told my dad about my feelings about the temple ceremony, his initial response had a profound effect upon me. His inspired words (delivered through tears but with conviction): “Maria, I just want to say that I love you so much. Thank you for having the courage to share such deeply personal and painful feelings with me. Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything you’ve expressed, I am committed to understanding your concerns on a deeper level. Please help me understand more about why you feel this way. Let’s work on this together.” His initial response has paved the way for dozens of productive follow-up conversations about not only the temple, but problematic presiding language, lack of female leadership, the solemn assembly voting order, etc.
In sum, my dad’s a pretty amazing guy. I count him among my best friends. I am certain that his love and support will continue to sustain me as the years go by. So much for that priesthood leader’s theory.
Have you ever heard of the “bad father = feminist daughter” theory before? Is this idea prevalent in the church? Has your relationship with your father informed your outlook on feminist issues in the church?