I grew up in a small farm town surrounded by corn, cows, and conservative churches. This might surprise you, but it’s true. You know what else was true? Father’s Day sucked for me as a child because I did not have a father in this community where the community and family machinations depended on rigid gender rules.
My extremely public secret was that my father died when I was two. Not only that, but he was the victim of a shooting during a robbery. He was one of five victims. This public trauma impacted me, my family, and the community.
Father’s Day was a reminder of the violence that we rarely spoke of, but that framed our lives. Kids in school made cards, and sermons on Father’s Day Sunday overflowed with stories of good men who were heads of households.
Here’s what came through loud and clear. Fathers = leaders. Fathers = safety. Fathers = strength. Fathers = salvation. Substitute the word men for father, and you’ve got a clear gender message.
Substitute the word mother/woman and the equation did not work. Substitute the word parent and so much more works.
Of course, I felt different growing up because my family was different from the dominant narrative. Of course, I yearned for a stereotypical, heteronormative family with all the bells and whistles of rigid gender boxes. I believed that my family was partial and deficient and I wanted to fix us.
I kept this not-so-secret secret about myself throughout my life. It was only about five years ago that I divulged it to people that I’d known for 10, 15, and 20 years.
This is what shame looks like – secretive and small. It fuels a victim mindset, and I say that with love and compassion from someone who identified as a victim for decades.
Here’s another truth that I realized when I decided to shine a light on the shame and stop carrying a burden that I did not create (Hello, patriarchy).
The flip side of my secret is my superpower.
I can spot the patriarchy a mile away. I know from my lived experience and my global academic research why we need to diversify leadership. Women still face significant obstacles today when they try to take up space including the pay gap, broken rung patterns, second shift labor, harassment, and backlash to name a few. These days I use my strengths unapologetically to change the world with them.
I also learned early that gender roles and gender rules didn’t apply to my family, so I began questioning them. Maybe the rules were constructed, I wondered. Maybe we could live more freely without them, I contemplated. Maybe I was more powerful than I could fathom, I whispered.
Something magical happened when I stopped wishing that life had been different and embraced all of who I am. I saw myself as a trailblazer, and I became her.
I imagined what would be possible if I could drop the victim mindset and begin using my mental, emotional, and nervous system power for my growth. I knew that my superpower could make this world a better place.
This Father’s Day, I am celebrating that my superpower transforms the world because I allowed it to change me first.
People who have faced challenges (I’m looking at you) are trailblazers.
Are you ready to embrace your strengths, but feel a little wobbly? That’s ok. I wobble too. Let’s start small together.