Another Wonderful Story about My Awesome Dad
By Melissa de la Cruz
I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to write about in the topic “Stories for All” and advocating the end of gender-based book assignments. There are no “girl” books and no “boy” books, but I didn’t know what to say other than that, which seemed obvious.
So I decided to write about my dad. My friends always tell me that my stories about my dad, who passed away almost seven years ago, are my best stories, so I will tell one of those.
When I was growing up, I never thought of myself primarily as someone who was defined first by my gender. I mean, I knew I was a girl, I knew girls and boys were “different”, blah blah blah. But mostly, I grew up thinking of myself as a person first. Like, what did I like to do? What did I like to read? I wasn’t fond of sports and I ate whatever I wanted without feeling guilty or weird about it, I cracked jokes, I was clumsy, I was goofy, I read a lot of books, and my parents bought me any book I wanted to read.
I read Jack London and Hardy Boys and Kipling and Roald Dahl and I read Little Women and Nancy Drew and Anne of Green Gables. I did notice that while I read both Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, some of my friends who were boys only read Hardy Boys. Even back then, at nine years old, I thought that was a shame.
Okay? So what is the Pop story? I’m getting to it. When my sister and I were both students at our fancy Ivy League colleges, I overhead my dad talking to a bunch of his friends during dinner. They were all Filipino men in their 50s and 60s, with children the same age as me and my sis. “How did you do it?” They asked my dad. “How did you raise such accomplished girls?”
My dad loved being famous for being a Great Dad. It was one of his proudest achievements and he loved giving people advice on how to raise their children. He told his friends, “I didn’t raise ‘girls’. I raised people. Accomplished people. There’s no difference. Why would I raise my girls any different from how I’m raising my son?” (In our family we would say the only difference is that our little brother was the most spoiled. Heh.)
Gender mattered very little to my parents, their opinions on the difference between men and women mostly rested around the iron clad belief that husbands should always take out the trash and fill up the family car. (I never saw my mom fill the tank once when my dad was alive.) They believed in manners and chivalry and equal pay for equal work, and that even if the wife was the breadwinner, it didn’t mean it was emasculating for the husband.
My dad would be insulted when provincial relatives would admire him for investing in our educations, that it was somehow special, and he would bristle at the notion that girls didn’t deserve the same expectations asked of boys, that girls “weren’t worth it” or somehow, subtly, lesser.
The practice of separating books by gender is part of this subtle communication to our girls that their stories don’t matter as much as boys’ stories do, and that boys should have no interest in learning about girls. So um, let’s stop doing that.
My dad knew his kids—his daughters and son weren’t perfect, and our family had our own issues. But looking back, I am amazed at how embarrassingly functional my family was. My parents were happily married and we children were loved and felt safe. We were allowed to be whoever we were, and our genders were the least important thing about us. And we were allowed to read whatever we wanted. No boy books. No girl books. Just books, and lots of them.
Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of many critically acclaimed and award-winning novels for teens and adults, including The Au Pairs series, the Blue Bloods series, the Witches of East End series, and the Descendants novel, Isle of the Lost. Melissa grew up in Manila and San Francisco and currently lives with her husband and daughter in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.