Demand it

strong and brave girl's t-shirt

My youngest daughter has an unusual bedtime song: “America’s Sweetheart” by Elle King. It’s a throw down, bluesy song that is all about empowerment. Oh, it’s not something that you can sing while protesting for equal pay or one of too many causes that hopefully my daughters won’t have to face. It’s a song that lets a woman be herself and not have to fight society norms.

I’ll be honest; I was taught everyone is equal so treat them that way. My dad had a diverse group of friends, so when I was growing up and said, “I don’t see color,” I kind of meant it. I know that sounds naïve because it is, but for most of my childhood I was lucky to be innocent like that.

The generation before my dad’s had a different view of the world, but through the years they learned that it is who the person is and not the color of their skin. My naivety went beyond skin color, I treated everyone – male and female – equally; at least I tried to.

We moved from the world I knew in seventh grade to a world I had no clue existed, and it was barely 15 miles between the two spots. Essentially, I was dropped in to a fight that was going on for centuries and I didn’t have a side to root for.

Let me explain. I went to a school that was part Muslim, part Chaldean, part Italian and part Polish. I’ll let you figure out what group I landed in. As a naïve 13-year-old, I could never figure out why my friend Mike couldn’t go over to my friend Rob’s house. Didn’t they like each other?

I finally asked Mike why they couldn’t hang out. He explained that their parents wouldn’t approve because of the families’ cultural differences. It was a history lesson that a teacher could never teach.

Fast-forward to today and here I sit, a father of two girls. And much like Mike and Rob, my girls are in a fight I don’t know anything about. I’m talking about how they’re going to have to fight for things like equal pay, equal rights and things that I was awarded by being born male.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not teaching my daughters to be victims; far from it. I’m teaching them that everyone is equal and if someone doesn’t treat you as an equal, then you demand it. Demand it by killing them with kindness. Demand it by proving them wrong. Demand it like the women who are marching so maybe they don’t have to fight anymore.

I’m a naïve white guy who never will apologize for who I am because my dad raised me by the golden rule. I am now the dad who will let his daughters cut their own paths, but will always be there to help them up. Not because I don’t think they can do it because they’re girls, but because I want to be there when they do.

– Jim Pesta is a Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

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