Three wise women
I’ve often struggled with the idea of “International <insert subject> Day”. Part of me thinks that if a subject is worthy of having a day, then it’s worthy enough to be thought of more often than once a year. Nevertheless, it seems appropriate on International Women’s Day to acknowledge the incredible role three incredible women have played in my life.
I have been unbelievably lucky to have a mother who is not only second to none in the role but who could also teach most dads a thing or two about fatherhood. It can’t be easy being a single mum. It can’t be easy to sacrifice all sense of self in order to give your kids two parents’ worth of love, support, encouragement, empathy and faith. And it certainly can’t be easy to do any of it while working full-time as a social worker.
My mum retired this year at the age of 73 after a career spent helping victims of crime, domestic violence, extreme poverty and social disenfranchisement. Every day she steadfastly supported those who needed it most, enduring tale after harrowing tale of abuse and misery. Every night she came home and dealt with it in silence as she once again put her focus on others. She’d patiently listen to our trivial nonsense, pitiful little problems and endless bickering, all the while knowing how good we actually had it.
It wasn’t school that taught me right from wrong and made me the person I am today. It wasn’t a man who made me the man I am today. And it wasn’t my dad who made me the dad I am today. It was my mum. An incredible woman who instilled in me the ideals of passion and compassion, respect and responsibility, selflessness and self-belief.
I am also unbelievably lucky to have a wife who not only makes me a better person, she’s also happy to remind me of that fact on a regular basis. You can’t have a successful marriage without a sense of humour and I somehow managed to catch one of the funniest of funny girls.
She once asked me what the best prize I’d ever won was. I thought for a moment and replied, “Probably the iPod I won in that Pepsi competition.”
Quick as a flash she responded, “What about me? I’m music for life.”
My wife is indeed music for life, but more than that she provides the perfect musical accompaniment for every life she touches. She brings light and laughter, compassion and Campari. A lot of people you meet will utter the words, “If you ever need anything, I’ll be there”. But as you go through life, you learn that very few people actually mean it. My wife means it. She doesn’t even have to know you to help you.
“What about me? I’m music for life.”
Every time my wife goes to the supermarket she makes a point of asking the homeless people out the front if they’d like anything. Socks, chocolate milk, sandwich, deodorant, whatever they need she gets for them. It’s something she’s passed onto our kids and in the process opened their eyes to the plights of others by humanising a group that is so often ostracised.
Which brings me to the third woman in my life: my seven-year-old daughter. She is everything the other two women in my life are not, and indeed many of the things I am not. She’s opinionated, loud, brutally honest, dismissively dishonest, argumentative, confident, self-involved, completely lacking in empathy, tough and, more often than not, blunt with her feedback.
When she was about 3 years old we were playing a game where I would throw a ball into a bucket and she’d clap like crazy and say, “Again!” I decided to throw three balls at once, two went in and the third bounced on the rim of the bucket a couple of times before rolling away. “I almost got three in at once!” I said enthusiastically. “Yeah but you didn’t”, came the brutal response.
“I almost got three in at once!” I said enthusiastically. “Yeah but you didn’t”, came the brutal response.
“Yeah but you didn’t,” came the brutal response.
In essence, she has all the characteristics that are so often admired in male leaders and so often criticised in women. In my working life I’ve encountered many women in leadership roles, a great many of them have adopted (deliberately or otherwise) what are regarded as traditional male characteristics. Sadly, it didn’t make them great leaders; it made them just as bad as all the male leaders I worked with who lacked empathy and a sense of selflessness. One of the best leaders I ever had was a woman who was very much like my mother: she was passionate, supportive and empowered her teams through her faith, confidence and ability to be selfless.
As my daughter grows older, she will inevitably continue to do things her way. That’s who she is. But being opinionated and confident isn’t something that should ultimately be seen as a negative. It’s not something we should be trying to discourage in our daughters. I don’t want to change her (a little less of the Costanza-esq ability to believe her own lies would be nice) but if she could learn just a little more empathy from the two other incredible women in my life, I’m sure she’ll be a better person for it.
So, as we celebrate “International Women’s Day”, let’s remember to thank the wise women in our lives that have made us the people we are today and let’s not forget that we don’t need to wait for this one special day of the year to do it.