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What a Feminist Looks Like: A Dad’s Reflections on His First Father’s Day

What a Feminist Looks Like: A Dad’s Reflections on His First Father’s Day

The author with his newborn daughter

Before our daughter, Noa, was born in April, my wife and I joked that we should buy a “This is what a feminist looks like” tee-shirt for me to wear home from the hospital. During those weeks, I found myself thinking about what it means to raise a child, especially a daughter, in an age that’s spawning such powerful movements as the Women’s March and #metoo.

After several conversations, I surmised that as a father, my responsibility would be to empower my daughter daily from the very start – giving her the necessary tools and confidence to overcome whatever obstacles might land in her path. In doing so, I am hopeful that she will grow to be a leader not unlike Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, or Leah – or Tzippora, Miriam, or countless other women who have directed and inspired the Jewish people over the ages.

Whenever I hold Noa, my perspective changes. In an instant I can be distracted from the nuisances of daily life – work, laundry, the 24-hour news cycle – and reminded of what’s truly essential: keeping her safe, healthy, and happy. When I can catch her stare, I’m amazed by the wonder in her eyes as the world comes into being around her. She’s captivated by bright colors, spinning fans, familiar faces, and lights.

As I watch her marvel at what seem to me to be the most mundane objects, I see her vision of the world taking shape, and I know the world will shape her, too. I wonder: Will her path be easy or difficult? Will she use her privilege to help those without? Will she face challenges or inequality in her career simply because she is a woman? Will she see her successes – no matter how great – as opportunities to empower others? Which glass ceilings will she break, and which ones will she crack, leaving the task of breaking them fully to her children and grandchildren?

Although we won’t know many of the answers for a lifetime, generations of powerful, strong women inspire me to prepare Noa for the questions – whatever the answers may be. The world around us is full of such women – in our local and national leadership, in our history books, and in our sacred texts.

I think of Miriam, for example, the prophet who inspired the Jews enslaved in Egypt, and who led them to redemption, singing at the shores of the sea. I find powerful lessons in leadership from the life stories of Anne Frank and Malala Yousafzai, who persisted, even as they understood that the cards were stacked against them and that their persistence might cost them their lives. I find powerful role models, too, in our community leaders – accomplished women including our police chief and mayor, as well as the all-female clergy team in our congregation, Temple Beth Or in Raleigh, NC. I am inspired by the daily work of all these – and countless other – women to pursue justice for all and shape our community and the world for the better.

As a new parent, I struggle with exactly how I will teach my daughter to speak up and speak out effectively; to fight for and insist on equal treatment, for herself and all those around her; and to be greater than those who inevitably will seek to undermine her. Still, I find myself eager to start, knowing that I will find my footing as she and I grow together.

On my first Father’s Day, I am grateful for all the women in this world who lead with courage, selflessness, and conviction. Although we never bought the tee-shirt, this dad is what a feminist looks like.

Isaac Nuell, the Union for Reform Judaism’s assistant director of North American events, lives in Raleigh, NC. He is a proud product of NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement and a former staff member at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Isaac Nuell
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