Losing Dad, Gaining Perspective
By Donna Haghighat, CEO, The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts
My Dad passed away this week and I have been reflecting on his life and how it aligns with my work. I am fairly sure that my Dad would not have called himself a feminist, yet his actions and values aligned with feminism in many ways.
In the 1960’s he supported my mom’s desire to complete her high school education and receive her diploma. He also promised her that she could go to college when they returned to the United States from a three-year stint living in their native Iran. As it turned out, my mom was unexpectedly pregnant with my twin sister and me so her college enrollment was delayed until my twin sister Diane and I started kindergarten. A promise made was a promise kept.
Growing up, I saw my Dad deviate from some of the strongest gendered stereotyping of roles. For us, it was always the norm that Dad did all of the grocery shopping. In an era before it was more common for dads to care for their own kids, Dad sometimes minded us alone. One of my favorite stories growing up was the story he told of how he was solely caring for Diane and I and he had to use the bathroom. By habit of privacy, he closed the bathroom door that opened out into the hallway. When he went to leave the bathroom, he saw two tiny sets of hands just resting on the sill underneath the door–he was trapped by the twins he was supposed to be watching over. He had to plead and ration with us toddlers to remove our hands so he could exit. I always loved that story because I wondered what my infant self must have been thinking. Now I also see the story as one of a father who was trying to navigate a role for which he had not been socialized.
My Dad wouldn’t use the social justice term ‘economic security’ but he was adamant that all three of his girls enter the most economically secure professions they could and would debate the choice endlessly if he did not think it the most economically secure. He supported each of our educations and helped to support his grandkids’ educations as well.
Dad also bucked the strong expectations that he should put pressure on his Iranian-American children to marry someone from the same culture. He embraced his two non-Iranian sons-in-law as if they were his own. He also welcomed and treasured my close friends of other races and sexual orientations.
Losing Dad has given me gratitude not just for the ways in which he embraced feminist values. It has also provided an appreciation for all those, including him, who take photos at events. I have always been too busy living the moment to think of capturing it. Flipping through photo albums to find photos for his tribute slideshow has left me grateful for these folks.
In looking at those photo albums I also gained the grateful perspective that I was blessed to be looking for the photos of a very old man (he died at 91). So many people lose loved ones at such young ages and I had the fortune to have him in my life for so long.
In grieving Dad, I am sure that I will find so many other things to be grateful for, but right now, I am most grateful for my fellow residents of CT and MA who took COVID-19 and the public health guidelines seriously. That allowed our states’ case counts to drop so much that the hospital in which he spent his last week relaxed their ‘no visitors rule’ and allowed us to see him, one visitor at a time. We had the gift of time and precious conversations with Dad that so many others are not able to experience. Thank you for wearing a mask and keeping socially distant. You are not just saving lives, you are providing so many with the chance to be able to say goodbye.