Happy Publication Week to Jennifer S. Brown! MODERN GIRLS left me a little irked at Jenny because I had to stay up until one in the morning to learn Dottie’s fate, leaving me rather worthless the next day. Its compelling storyline made it my May book club choice, and should motivate you to pick up a copy. To celebrate this exciting week, Jenny asked us to share the expectations set in our own childhood homes– a central theme in her debut. Here it goes:
My father was a big picture guy. This propensity could be observed in his stated expectations for my sister and me, with one exception. When we were young he specifically requested we not become cheerleaders—“do something worth cheering for“—or dancers—”I’m not sitting through five hour recitals while you parade around in costumes and lipstick you’re way too young to have on. Pick something else. Anything else.”
As we got older, I noticed his expectations differed from other parents. He had no opinion when it came to the boys we dated. He’d say, “If you like him, I like him. If you don’t like him anymore, I don’t like him anymore.” His demands on us were more philosophical. We were to be hardworking, trustworthy, openhearted, good listeners. He taught us to laugh at ourselves. To win and lose graciously. To think bigger than the small town we lived in. We were encouraged to speak freely and warned to never to engage in anything intentionally mean. My parents were once dragged to the principal’s office regarding a bully situation. After all sides were heard, it was determined I had nothing to do with the incident. Still, my father grounded me for the weekend. “Dad, that’s not fair!” I wailed. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“You’re right,” he said. “It’s totally unfair. As is that sweet girl getting harassed by your callous friends. It won’t kill you to spend the weekend ruminating on what it must be like for her.” I was not friends with the guilty party, but knew better than to argue with my father while he made a point. And the truth is, I did learn a lot from my two days acknowledging the undiscussed but undeniably present caste system in place at every high school.
His most powerful expectation, however, was delivered the day I left for college: “Four years from now– degree in hand or not– my financial duty to you will be fulfilled and this gravy train will come to an end. You know everything I know, and now you have the opportunity to glean additional insight from a new community, but after this, it’s on you. Our relationship will change. We’ll both be adults. No matter what you do after graduation, you’ll live with the consequences and lifestyle associated with your choices.* I’ll only offer advice when you ask for it.** You have four years to save money and get your act together. Don’t screw it up.”
His words inflated me. Forcing me to create a life of my own meant he knew I could. He considered me capable. His confidence filled me with confidence at a point where experience alone could not.
Damn, I miss that man.
* I have no doubt that if I took a swan dive into a pool of failure, he would have thrown me a life preserver.
**This was a lie that ultimately earned my father the nickname Dr. Love.
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