"I can do it! I did it!"
It amazes me how early the seeds of confidence and cowardice can be planted. It is, quite frankly, one of the things that scares the shit out of you as a parent! As a father, I know that latent within me are both the universes of unstoppable courage and paralyzing fear. I know that it is also inevitable that I will impart a bit of both to my two girls. Apparently it is in our children that we pass on both Heaven and Hell. So I consider with great intentionality and resolve how I may call upon my children to reject that which is within me that will only serve to hold them back from their truest nature and potential to love. Conversely, I hope that they would embrace as an inspirational legacy the moments in my life when I have managed to show grit and determination in the face of the naysayers. In the gulf that exists between these failures and successes, I would ask that they apply liberal amounts of grace.
evoking my elders
Lucky for them, I'm not limited to drawing upon my own life when it comes to stories that will hopefully inspire Mel and Elli. This is especially true when I consider the unique challenges they will face as they march forward as young girls into becoming adult women. One such amazing lady in my family tree would be Marion Nissen. After my mom lost her mother at a very early age to cancer, my grandfather would eventually remarry to Marion Oaks of Sonoma County. One of paternal twins, Marion would be the grandma on my mom's side that I would come to know in my early childhood. Unfortunately, she would pass away while I was still relatively young, so my memories of her are very vague. Mostly I recall a gentle woman who made yummy food. So just conjure up your own images of your stereotypical sweet, old grandma and you will kinda get the picture. Except don't let the seemingly soft and fragile image fool you.
You see, Marion was born October 12th, 1909, which made her 32 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed. One of the unforeseen developments that would come from the following World War 2 was the large-scale launching of women into the paid workforce. The shortage of so-called 'manpower' meant that the country had to turn to her women to, among other things, build the ships that would prove vital to the war effort. Enter Marion Nissen, who would become a real life "Rosie the Riveter" during WW2. She worked as a crane operator at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, CA, one of the major production facilities for submarines. I can only imagine that at a time when women were expressly told what they could and couldn't do--something that unfortunately still continues to this day in many ways--Marion probably struggled with doubts, wondering if she was 'up for the task'. But we have her letter of commendation to this day to confirm that she joined with hundreds of thousands of other women who rolled up their sleeves and said, "We can do it!"
"I did it!"
Recalling this, I can't help but smile a little bit wider whenever I hear one of my youngest daughter's most common refrains: "I can do it!" followed by "I did it!" Yes, like her dad and I am sure her great-grandmother Marion, she struggles at times with the "I can't do it!" demons that come knocking at all of our doors. But when those voices come, I hope she and my oldest daughter can imagine a thirty-two year old single woman, perched atop a crane, doing what only men were supposed to do, and doing a damn good job at it. And I hope they will always hear from their dad, "Girls, you can do it to!"