Written by Emma Glassman-Hughes
This weekend, our country celebrated one of my all-time favorite holidays. If you’re worried that you missed National Cat Day, don’t be (that’s October 29)--this time I’m talking about Father’s Day. I love celebrating my parents and everything that they’ve done for me as I’ve grown up; I love cooking meals for them and showering them in a tiny fraction of the love they raised me with. I love reflecting upon how lucky I am to have two parents that I admire and adore as much as I do (and who are celebrating their 31st wedding anniversary today, BTW). But instead of being home in true Father’s Day fashion, scrambling up some eggs to the tune of Steely Dan’s greatest hits, I spent my Sunday alone in my Brooklyn apartment, packing for my upcoming trip to South Africa (hello from the winter) and reading a tragic article about the state of violence against women in this country.
I know what you’re thinking: she sounds like a real hoot!
The article was (excellently) written by a woman roughly my age. It came just a week after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history* and just two weeks after the highly publicized story of the brutal rape of an unconscious woman at Stanford. In it, the author shared lesser known headlines about women being murdered and assaulted in cities around the country--in New York City--by men who were angry ex-partners, who were angry for being rejected, who were just looking for a casual afternoon activity. Unsurprisingly, the article was filled from the bottom up with angry, condescending comments from men who were offended by the writer’s call for men to take responsibility for the violence they perpetuate.
Reading through her wounding message and sorting through all the tabs I’d opened to learn more about each story of violence, I was overcome with a sense of unshakeable vulnerability. I felt very small and exposed, even just sitting alone in my locked apartment in broad daylight, and I practically watched my anxiety spike. It was overwhelming facing the countless ways that I, as a woman in New York, could be hurt by a stranger or by someone I know, and I was scared. Shitless.
I thought about my upcoming trip to Cape Town, and the many ways my plane could be sabotaged or I could be abducted or sexually assaulted or drugged until I thought to myself, “I don’t want to go anymore.”
Me--a girl whose only lifelong dream has been to travel the world and take in as much as I can while on this earth. I was so terrified of the countless dangers in this world that we all face, but especially women, that I allowed my fear to eclipse the sense of adventure and curiosity that is more authentically me than my secret obsession with campy musical theater.
And that’s when I remembered the occasion. It was Father’s Day, and what was the biggest lesson my father had taught me up to that point aside from waiting to have sex until I knew I was 100% ready and how to sauteé kale just right? The lesson of persistent bravery in the face of terror.
He taught me this when I was a little kid with a lot of spunk but also a lot of anxiety about the big world around me:
There's a lot of shit out there. There are a lot of people who want to hurt me, and hurt people like me. There are a lot of people who are unpredictable and who harbor hatred and who are capable of devastation.
But the only way to let them win is to stop exploring. To let my fear of the unpredictable overtake my life and keep me from adventure, and doing justice to myself and my love for this world.
Each time an unspeakable tragedy unfolds in Orlando or San Bernadino or Aurora or Sandy Hook or Stanford or New York City -- through clouds of disbelief and paralyzing fear, I hear my dad's voice in my head, and I see his earnest, bearded and bespectacled face looking at mine, trying to relight the passion for experience that usually lives behind my eyes.
He's not a firefighter or a police officer or a war hero, but my dad is a champion of everyday bravery, and I owe my independence and strength to this lesson from him; to his commitment to self-fulfillment even when it feels impossible.
I walk out my door everyday for my dad, because he taught me that in a world of unpredictability, the one thing we control is our own happiness. To Bruce, who inspires me to continue living life (and I mean living it) in spite of fear. Happy belated Father’s Day.