Today is my grampa’s birthday. He would have been 109 today. He was a firefighter, and the head of a traditional, nuclear family household from the 1930s-60s (inarguably ‘masculine’).
He had a reputation for being kind of gruff and grumpy and structured and particular, and he WAS those things. My mom used to joke that even his birthday sounds like a command: ‘March forth!’
So here was this ruggedly masculine, traditional man of a different era…he’d be over a hundred were he alive today…who wasn’t ever shy about telling someone his opinion or about something being ‘wrong.’ Once I was doing homework on his living room floor in fourth grade, and I said something about what I was learning, which he said was wrong. My response was, ‘The book says…’ and his retort was, ‘Well, then that book’s wrong.’ So this is the kind of man I’m talking about here. So it’d be easy for one to think there was zero chance he could possibly be a feminist. But here’s a story about Grampa from when I was Very Tiny Jen, that to me, among other things, shows he was one, and I believe he’d be one now.
I had this little hard plastic play table that stayed at Gramma and Grampa’s house when they babysat me. I liked coloring pictures at this play table. Grampa especially would praise me for coloring inside the lines, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you color (rules!). And (I know, what a creativity stifling monster ) he would even say things like, ‘Elephants aren’t green,’ or something when I went crazy with the fantastic color choice. I drew pictures at this table too. Gramma and Grampa would buy plain white writing tablets at the grocery store every week for this purpose. It was clear that coloring and drawing happened on paper. ON PAPER. One day, I drew something and colored it right on my plastic play table. And an older cousin of mine who happened to be there, scolded me for it. Grampa said, ‘That’s HER table, and she can color on it if she wants.’ My cousin got kinda pissed. I’m sure at some earlier point in her youth, Grampa gave her the business for coloring on a wall or a piece of furniture or something. But that wasn’t what *I* was doing. Grampa made it really clear (hell, I think I was 3…*maybe* 4) that *I* was in charge of what was *mine.*
Thanks, Grampa, for teaching me that lesson early.
I know my Grampa wasn’t perfect, and he was, in many ways (not all of them positive), a man of his time.
But when I was a girl in the 1980s, and I wanted to be a Triple Crown race-winning jockey (still only 1 woman has ever ridden a Triple Crown race winner), or fly the space shuttle, or be a veterinarian, he never said, ‘Girls can’t <whatever.>’ And while I spent a lot of time with him, I NEVER saw or heard him treat girls or women with disrespect, or like they were beneath him, or like objects or property, or like they weren’t in charge of their own agency. Even when they were in preschool.
I love this story about my grampa (it’s totally true). And I think about it every time I see someone say something like, ‘Things were different back then; we were taught that treating women this way was acceptable…’
My grampa is proof that age and the time in which one comes of age are not indicators of or excuses for disrespectful behavior. He knew it was wrong during his time, and I’m confident he wouldn’t be defending men who treat women with disrespect or harassment, or dismissing the stories of women coming forward with their experiences as a normal part of being a woman in society now.
Happy birthday, Grampa. I still miss you.