Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Grandpa the Feminist

Today would have been my grandpa Robert Hawley's 81st birthday. He passed away last October and I miss him a bunch. Everyone's grandpa is special and mine was so very special.

In his younger years, BobBob was not the best dad. He was cranky and impatient and he really didn't want a lot of kids running around disturbing his time with his wife. But as he got older he softened, and he was able to show love to his grandkids that he didn't know how to show to his children. My siblings, cousin and I didn't have a dad around, so he was all we had. He was crafty and funny and really enjoyed just hanging out with us.

But my BobBob wasn't just a cool old dude. He was the most feminist person in my life growing up. A lot of his views on women seemed to stem from his love of his wife of 63 years. She was his tutor in high school when they met and he was won over by her sharp wit and no-nonsense attitude. He would tell stories at length about the tricks she used to pull on him when they were younger and the fights they used to get into. His life was dedicated to loving and supporting her. A successful senior manager at Boeing, he rarely talked about his accomplishments, but he would go on at length about his wife's career. My grandma had a long commute so he would rush home every day to make sure that he had dinner ready for her when she got home. "Your grandma is going to be home soon and I want her to be able to relax. Go play!" he would yell as he would put together a dish from the Graham Kerr cookbook.
My Grandparents on their 50th Anniversary

BobBob never called me pretty. I don't think it's because he didn't think I was pretty. It just honestly didn't matter to him. He called me smart. He called me funny. He called me talented. The only time he ever commented on my physical appearance was his regular complaint that I refused to shave my head, because I had such a "perfectly round head." Any time I would cut my hair he would wink and say, "that's a good start."

I cannot overstate how amazing it is for girls to have a parental figure who never uses "pretty" in your life. Who never comments on your clothing. Who never comments on your weight. All that mattered to Bob Bob was what I had to talk about, what I was thinking of, what new things I had learned.

We talked for hours about anything in the world. As a tall, chubby, brown, nerdy girl who didn't know how to be "cute" and had absolutely no idea of "cool" - I didn't fit in anywhere in the Seattle suburbs that I grew up in. But when I was hanging out with Bob Bob, I could slouch. I didn't have to comb my hair. I could speak my opinion without seeming like a know-it-all. Actually scratch that - I could be a know-it-all, and it was fine. He would always say, "What do you think about this?" and he would listen intently and treat my responses like they were coming from one of his peers, not a little girl. He was my safe place, which not many girls get growing up. We spend a lot of time talking about what we need to do to help girls succeed in the world, but I feel like my grandpa is a good example of the importance of the things you don't do. Sometimes it's as simple as not commenting on a girl's looks, as not responding to her thoughts differently, of not interjecting your own notions of what a girl or woman should be. That freedom, to just be myself, he created it by trusting and valuing who I really was.

BobBob dove head first in to all of my interests. He never tried to steer me in any direction, he just followed my lead and did his best to help me succeed. When I changed my mind at a moment's notice as kids do, he never took it personally and was just as excited about my new ventures. When I showed an interest in Architecture, he built me a drafting table and showed me how to draw. I spent 6 months of 1991 building fantasy houses. I was excited when Tiger Woods made his debut so he got out the golf clubs and took my brother Aham and I to the driving range. He tried not to seem disappointed by my absolute lack of hand-eye coordination. I loved Barbies so he built me a 2 story Barbie house - with carpeting, working lights and doorbell, and a working vacuum. When I showed my love of Politics in Middle School, he started looking up articles on current events for us to talk about. He dug up my dad's thesis for his PhD in PoliSci for me to read.

When I got pregnant right before I turned 19 and then got engaged, he was disappointed. "I guess maybe she won't run the world now." He said. It crushed me. It was the most heartbreaking moment of my life. I thought that he thought I'd thrown my life away by having a baby. I distanced myself from him, partially because I felt that he had given up on me, and also because I didn't want him to see how unhappy I was at home. My husband was controlling and manipulative, and he was suffering from severe depression. I had quit school to take on a second job to support us. My focus had become about keeping the peace and protecting my son from his dad's anger. I felt like I had let everyone down.

We went for a walk together a few days after I had left my husband. We were talking about current events and out of the blue he patted me on the shoulder.

"I know this is a tough time for you kiddo. Divorce is hard. But you are strong. You can do this and you can raise your son. But with him, you - you stopped doing what you wanted. I didn't like that. I feel like you let him stop you from being who you are. You can do this now. You can raise this boy and you can go to college and you can run the world. And maybe you'll meet someone better someday or maybe not, but don't let anyone else ever stop you from doing anything, ok?"

I took those words with me to college, and they helped keep me awake through long nights of studying for finals when I had to take a kid to kindergarten in the morning. They helped me when I was struggling to pay bills and daycare and tuition all at once. And when I graduated, even though his mind had started to slip by then, I've never seen him so proud. He bawled like a baby and took a billion pictures. I'm going to owe him for the rest of my life.

I saw him for the last time when my grandparents flew in to town for Christmas and BobBob's 80th birthday. He didn't remember who I was but he knew I was important to him, so I still got hugs and smiles. We had two weeks with him. The day before he and my grandma left for Kansas he was crying. He was confused. His son wasn't there so he thought he was dead.
"No Bob, we're at Joma's house." my grandma said.
"No we aren't" he insisted.
"Yes we are" my mom insisted.
"Really?" he said, his voice hopeful, "well where is she?"
I was in the bedroom and they called me out. I walked into the living room. He looked at me and for the first time in two weeks he remembered who I was.

"Oh hell, where did you come from?" He said and he grabbed me into a hug and stared crying. "Where have you been? Where are you living now? How is work going? I bet you are just running the world aren't you."