My dad is from Iowa, and even though he wasn’t raised on a farm he always acted as if we were. “Wake up!” He’d shout. “It’s time to plow the south 40!” I suppose that was his equivalent to my mom’s good morning song – we heard it just as often and found it just as annoying. Both of them meant well, but while my mom was sincerely trying to wake us in a sweet way, my dad was trying to get a rise out of us. To this day, he’ll tease us about things that aren’t even funny, and if we don’t react (because it’s not funny) he finds that even funnier. Soon, he’ll be laughing so hard – but we won’t be able to hear him, because his laugh is a silent hysteria that involves uncontrollable shoulder shrugs and the constant wiping of tears from his eyes – that he’ll be crying. And then we do start laughing, because he’s so ridiculous. But my point here is that he thought we were farm women. When I was younger, I found this sexist. He could be heard saying, “Oh, I love seeing my women in the kitchen,” and he often used the terms “strong” and “strapping” to refer to the three of us girls, as if we came straight out of a Willa Cather novel. My dad literally called us “pioneer women.”
Now, I’m going to be honest with you: I was a lazy child when it came to housework. On Saturdays, my dad would “crank the music” and make sure we all had a cool drink before getting started on the housework. He always wanted to make everything fun, which we resented, because there’s nothing fun about vacuuming. At any rate, when we complained long enough, my dad simply said, “Why do you think we had children? To clean for us!” I couldn’t believe the injustice. My dad continued to tease: “You’ll understand one day, Katie, when you have kids.” Yeah right, I thought. I would never put my kids through such torture, nor assign children such gender-specific chores (Casey, our only brother, was most frequently assigned to pick up the dog doo, and any other “outside” work, for example). At the time, without power to change my teenage world, I resigned myself to sulking and doing a half-ass job of dusting the living room. Today, however, sulking doesn’t do me any good. Last night, as I was picking up piles of dog doo in the backyard (from our two weimaraners, Rummy & Moose), with a baby strapped to my belly, no less, I heard my father’s voice loud and clear: “You’re a pioneer woman, Katie.” I half-grimaced, half-laughed to myself. I knew he’d find my actions heroic. As I searched for the land mines in the backyard, I realized that perhaps my dad wasn’t trying to be sexist, so much as he was trying to raise strong, capable women.