When my father died of cancer at the age of 30 (13 years younger than I am right now) my 28-year-old mother was left alone with three small children. My brother was eight, I was six, and my little brother was three.
One clear memory of that time was that of our kitchen clock breaking, and my mother climbing up on a chair to fix it. My small mind was struck with an uncomfortable sense of weirdness: mothers don’t fix clocks. Fathers fix clocks.
I know now that both mothers and fathers can fix clocks thankyouverymuch, but I believe something was hatched in my brain in that moment: I need to be independent so that in case my husband dies, I will never get stuck.
Those who know me will attest that I am a fiercely independent woman, even a bit unusually so among more traditional Orthodox community members. I have always been quite proud of this, but when my friend Rivki Silver wrote this the other day, it got me thinking.
Am I trying to prove a point with all my independence? So many of the examples in Rivki’s article describe me. My husband is solicitously helpful and would love nothing more than to take care of me (don’t worry, I let him plenty). But often I just don’t want to be taken care of. I want to do my thing my way, on my schedule, by myself. Hardly anything scares me (except real life sometimes) and I don’t need to be saved or protected.
Is all this a reaction to losing my father at six? I thought I grew up remarkably well-adjusted for such a significant trauma but there has to be fallout. Maybe my six-year-old inner child is still trying to immunize me from feeling bereft and adrift.
The word “feminist” is a loaded one in my community but I kind of am one. Talent, confidence, brains and wisdom are hallmarks of my gender, and I am a proud and confident woman. But immunization against the feelings I feared is actually impossible and I know that now.
Even if my independence was hatched from pain, I believe it is a part of my journey. I know my confidence makes my husband smile, and I believe my dad is smiling down at me too, cheering me on as I found non-profits and drive hundreds of miles solo. I also know this: I love being an independent woman. And that makes me smile.