The lessons you learn as a child can sometimes last a lifetime.
I grew up in a rather strict family. My father was an immigrant from Italy and my mother was an English Canadian. With both family came first. Education came next. I had two sisters and a brother. My oldest sister was a hard worker and you could always count on her to do the right thing. Everybody liked her. My youngest sister was very smart and a go-getter. My brother was quite handsome and everybody wanted to be his friend.
I was the middle sister and was incredibly shy. I lived in my head a lot, but at home, I was quite the tom-boy. Back in the fifties, there were no exceptions made for learning difficulties. I assumed that I must be the dummy in the family.
I clearly remember hearing most of my elementary teachers saying “If only she would stop daydreaming and pay attention she would do much better.”
My father was typical for his time. A chauvinistic man that would provide for his family. He was the head of the household and no wife of his would work outside the home.
He was, however, a feminist for his daughters. He always said we could be anything we wanted to be and he would support us. He said we would never have to stay in a bad marriage because we could support ourselves and our children if needed with an education.
My Dad told us stories of all the things that we could accomplish in our lives if we had an education. He didn’t finish high school and always regretted it. He did accomplish a lot of things and would say,” Just think of what else I could have done if I had stayed in school.”
He had an older sister who stayed in an abusive marriage because she was not able to financially leave.
When I went to school there weren’t any kindergarten classes. My birthday was close to Christmas so I entered grade one as a five-year-old. As I said I was very shy and did not speak much in the classroom.
One day the teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. This, I could answer. When it was my turn, I stood up and said I was going to be a doctor. The teacher paused and said I couldn’t be a doctor as only boys could be doctors. So, what did I want to be? She sounded impatient. I started to cry and said, “My dad says I can be anything I want.” Quickly I ran out of the class and all the way home.
I know it was a Monday as my father always had Sunday and Monday off. Dad was making the sauce for spaghetti and meatballs as he always did on Mondays. I ran into the house crying and told him what my teacher had said.
We walked back up to the school and I didn’t say anything, just held tight onto my father’s hand.
The schoolteacher was an important person in our lives so I was worried about what was going to happen. My dad was with me so I knew I would be okay.
When the teacher came out my Dad told her, ‘His daughter could be whatever she chose to be and he had better not hear anyone telling her she couldn’t be what she wanted to be.’ With that, we left and walked home again.
That night Dad told me I had to listen to my teachers but in this one case she was wrong and I could be anything I wanted.
I did not become a doctor but I have carried the confidence that my dad gave me that day.
Was he the perfect dad? Of course not, but the gift he gave me has always stayed with me. At no point do I ever feel I can’t try anything, no matter what!
I know that Dad would be proud of what I have accomplished with both my family and with my occupation.
I can see Dad looking down on me now as I struggle to start my second career as a writer.