My name is “Melyssa-with-a-y”. And the story of how I got that name speaks volumes about my father’s character:
“Mom,” I asked one day, “why did you decide to spell my name so weird?”
My mom laughed. “Oh, that was your Dad’s idea! He really liked the name Melissa. But he didn’t want anyone calling you ‘Missy’. He thought it was condescending. So he put the “y” in the middle so that no one would give you a silly nickname.”
“Wow,” I said, “he never told me.”
My father is a right-wing, conservative Christian, of the same group of people who are often accused by the media of being misogynistic and belittling towards women. Yet, here we see that in the 1990’s, my father was thinking through the social structures that might stand in the way of his unborn daughter. He was careful to give me a name that would stand up against those who might belittle me.
With a wife, two daughters, and even a female dog, my father was the only male in our household. Often in these homes, daughters can be raised one of two ways. In the first way, the father goes out of his way to cultivate “tomboy” tendencies in his daughters to make up for not having a son. In the second, a father fully immerses himself in the feminine, encouraging his daughters to be tiny, ultra-pink princesses. My father took neither of these routes.
Instead, he followed the interests of me and my sister and supported them, no matter their gender association. I loved going to Home Depot with my dad, so he took me to a workshop where he and I could build our own wooden helicopter model. When he would come home from a long day at work, he would sit down at my tiny Fisher Price kitchenette and let me serve him “dinner”. He once stood in line with my sister for two hours just so she could get a picture with Cinderella at Disney Land. When she wanted to join the basketball team, he bought her a hoop and coached her in the driveway until she could block aggressively and drive towards the basket.
My father never once said “If I only had a son…”. Never a mention of all the “estrogen in the house”, or his family’s “cycles syncing up”. I had seen many other fathers talk this way, yet it was conspicuously absent from our home.
One day, I finally asked my dad the question that had been burning inside of me: “Dad, do you ever wish that you had a son?”
He squinted his eyes for a second. “We were happy with whatever baby we got,” he told me diplomatically.
“Yeah, but what about after I was born?” I pressed on. “Did you hope that your next child would be a boy?”
“Nope,” he replied. “After you were born, we hoped that our next one would be a girl. We wanted you and your sister to be really close friends, and you can see what happened with your mom and her brother.”
My mom and her brother are estranged. To make a long story short, my mother was the brightest student in her high school and dreamed of owning her father’s business. Her brother had no intention of owning the business, yet their parents pushed him to become involved in the company. When my mom became pregnant with me, her parents fired her so that she could “focus on her family”. Meanwhile, they promoted her brother and began grooming him for management. Those wounds would have still been fresh near the time my sister was conceived.
I marveled at my dad’s understanding of these complex, gender-fueled issues.
My dad would never self-identify as a feminist. But in his wisdom, he raised two daughters in a remarkably egalitarian way.