My Father, An Enigma

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on November 21, 2013

“Libby, you could be an engineer. You have the mind for it.”

My dad made this comment while we were in the car, driving by a factory of some sort. I was probably around sixteen. My dad’s comment was completely offhand, and I didn’t bother to respond. Inside, though, I was baffled.

Why would my dad suggest such a thing?

Didn’t he realize that my lot in life, the lot God had designed for me, was to be a homemaker, raising children, caring for my husband, and tending the home? Couldn’t he see that engineering was not even remotely related to homemaking, and that if I were going to learn a trade it should be something feminine like teaching or nursing?

Why would he even suggest that I could be an engineer? It made no sense!

I wrote recently about something similar regarding my mother. I grew up seeing that Above Rubies magazine on the counter, in mom’s bedroom, or on the stool in the bathroom, and I myself read it voraciously. It was clearly approved reading material, and I never heard my parents contradict it or disagree with it, so I assumed that my parents believed everything in it. I adopted its beliefs myself, and it shaped my conception of myself as a woman and my dreams for my future. And yet, my mother told me several months ago that she had never believed everything in that magazine.

I had had no idea.

Every so often I am reminded of my father’s offhand comment and I am bothered. When I was growing up, I was immersed in the literature of the Christian homeschooling movement and was surrounded by the patriarchal ideas I found there. These ideas shaped my understanding of the world and the trajectory of my life. But did I miss something? Did my father not actually hold all of these beliefs?

Did he honestly think that being an engineer would have been a perfectly legitimate life choice for me?

The mothers and fathers of my parents generation of homeschooling had no idea what it was like to grow up homeschooled in the Christian homeschooling communities they saw as so safe and godly. They may not have realized how deeply we children were imbibing and embracing ideas the that flowed through the Christian homeschooling movement—ideas they may not always have agreed with. Perhaps our parents took many of these things with a grain of salt—but if they did, unless they were vocal about this we had no way of knowing it. And so we believed.

As for my father, I honestly cannot say for sure. When I was in college and things started going haywire, he very clearly expected me to obey him, and very clearly believed that he was my male authority and that I was bound by God to submit to him. But was this perhaps simply the way he responded in his fear of losing me? How deeply did he actually hold those ideas? At the time, I took his reaction as confirmation that he bought into the entire slate of patriarchal beliefs that so characterized the Christian homeschooling world of my childhood and youth.

Now, I’m not so sure.

Now, I wonder.

5 thoughts on “My Father, An Enigma

  1. Heidi Underhill November 26, 2013 / 3:27 pm

    Sounds like a conversation you need to have:-)

    It is also a reminder about the stuff we have around for our kids to read. I like to read lots of sides of different issues. You post shows me I need to be clear on what my views are – at least what my evolving ideas are at the time, so I don’t confuse them.


  2. ColleenInWis November 26, 2013 / 6:14 pm

    Libby Anne, I’ve thought many times about your post on your mother not believing those magazines. The first thing I thought of when I read it: “Of course. Those of us brought up in secular schools knew that we didn’t believe everything we read or everything our teachers told us. But homeschool kids raised in an isolated, authoritarian environment–they don’t grow up with that assumption.” You’ve helped me understand my own homeschooled kids a bit, and I’ve been working on discussing some of these issues to make sure they understand where I stand.


    • Heidi Underhill November 27, 2013 / 7:26 am

      Colleen – I hope you remember that some homeschoolers grow up in ” an isolated, authoritarian environment” – there are many ways to home school, just as many ways there are to use other types of schooling. On of the reasons I started homeschooling was because I did not feel our public school learned about world cultures and other people. I grew up in a city and barely learned about other cultures. Now I live in a small town (pop. 1100). The kids here think that the world revolves around the little town and the only world outside it is the USA. I don’t want my kids to have such a narrow view. So the adults here did grow up in these homes and need to heal, but not all home schoolers do:-) After I typed this I saw that you have your own home schooled kids. Perhaps we have some same thoughts on home schooling. I often read these posts so I can avoid the pitfalls that can come with home schooling. I am so thankful these young adults are speaking out:-)
      Have a great day!


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