In Appreciation of Fathers Who Have Daughters

Joel and Heather, New Year’s
Releasing Balloons for Joel
On Wednesday, May 25th, my brother-in-law committed suicide. (Yes, I know the obituary says he died on March 25th, and if Joel were here, we’d be laughing our asses off at that completely unacceptable typo. He’d be like, “Did the funeral home seriously screw up my date of death?”)
The real tragedy, though, is that he left behind his wife—my younger sister, Heather—and three amazing daughters: Sophia, age 6; Chloe, age 4; and Penelope, age 2.
Joel and Penelope
I’ve wondered if Bitch Flicks is really the right place to talk about something like this. And I’ve decided it is—because Joel was a huge fan of Bitch Flicks. He constantly encouraged me to keep writing, even when our site was in its baby stages with no real traffic to speak of, and some of my favorite conversations with Joel surrounded how films, particularly the animated crap Disney and Pixar churn out, impact his daughters.
Joel and Heather and I (and my whole family) grew up in Middletown, Ohio (which recently made the Forbes top ten list of fastest dying towns). To say it’s a conservative town is like saying George Bush was a shitty president—I mean, duh. Joel was a self-proclaimed jock-type who went to a conservative, Christian high school (he and my sister were high school sweethearts), and who never really thought much about women’s lack of equality—until he became the father of three girls.
Heather and Joel
He called me often with stories about his language slip-ups. Once, he said he and Sophia were discussing the origin of mankind. (Because she’s 6 and a genius and wants to know about these things.) So Joel talked to her for a while about evolution, and summed it all up with, “Basically, man has been around for a long time.” Sophia looked at him and said, “Daddy, how long has woman been around?”
I love that. Because when he told me that story, he felt actual shame and became even more conscious of how those little things were a huge deal in the way his girls thought about themselves and their place in the world. As a result of his awareness, the girls and I often have conversations about the movies they watch—with Sophia saying things like, “Why are there so many boys in this movie?” and Chloe asking, “Why does a boy save Coraline at the end?”
Joel and Chloe
Chloe and Sophia Sleeping Last Night
They think critically about gender and representations of girls and women in the media (at ages 6 and 4), and that’s because of Joel, who was such a wonderful dad to those girls, and because of their mom, Heather.
In fact, Heather just told me about an adorable interaction. Chloe was riding in the car with her and said, “I have a girlfriend at school. And I want to marry Kelly Clarkson when I grow up. She’s a girl too, though.” Heather said, “Honey, by the time you’re old enough to get married, you’ll be able to marry a girl if you want to.”
Then, when I was in Ohio for Joel’s memorial service, Chloe told me she had a boyfriend (but that “it’s a secret to him”—omgcuteness). I said, “That’s awesome, but what about your girlfriend?” And she said, all exasperated, “I have a boyfriend and a girlfriend.” I can’t tell you how happy it made me that she spoke to me like I was a complete dumbass for asking her that.
Joel and Sophia
Penelope, who’s 2, just runs around like a rambunctious toddler and is inevitably dirty and messy and muddy and scraped and fearless, and that, too, is a credit to her parents, who have never encouraged their girls to sit up straight and keep their legs closed and say please and thank you and smile and all that other crap girls are supposed to learn when they’re little. Sure, Penelope likes to sleep with her baby doll, but she also likes to sleep with her shoes (seriously) and her books and the occasional pair of 3D glasses (WTF).
In one of the last email correspondences Joel and I had, he wrote:
Sophie and Chloe Meeting Penny

“I have learned so much from you; you have completely changed my worldview, and that has helped me be a better father to my three daughters and recognize the hurdles they will face as they grow into their adult selves. I want to say thank you for that.”

One of the things that upsets me most is that I’m not sure I ever really expressed to Joel how much I respected and appreciated him, especially as a father to three daughters. He didn’t treat them like “girls” … he treated them like kids. If Chloe wanted to watch Handy Manny all morning, he bought her a Handy Manny toolkit and pretended things were broken in the house so that she could “fix” them with Squeeze (the name of Manny’s wrench) and Turner (the name of Manny’s screw driver).
Penelope’s Collage
Heather and The Girls on Halloween
Joel had a ton of experience in that realm because he was a stay-at-home dad for two years (and believe me, the two of us had many conversations about the bullshit, outdated ideas surrounding gender roles, particularly those pertaining to the domestic sphere). Sophia, Chloe, and Penelope worshipped their dad, and I know when they get older, they’ll struggle to understand his suicide. But right now, they’re at home with their mom, making picture collages of Joel, and celebrating Father’s Day.
Girls, I want to tell you how much Daddy loved you. And Heather, I want you to remember, always—you were the love of Joel’s life.
So, Happy Father’s Day, to all the dads out there who teach their daughters that they’re important, and who learn from their daughters, too.

An account has been set up in Joel’s name, for his three daughters, if anyone would like to donate.

  • http://marinagraphy.com/ Marina DelVecchio

    Wow!Stephanie, this was a gripping post — Your sister and nieces are gorgeous, and Joel sounded like an amazing man and father. It takes a lot for a man nowadays to admit that there are gender inequities — and to be aware of his language shows what a loving dad he was.

    Thank you for posting this.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09200575390394666074 Amber Leab

    This is such a beautiful piece, Steph. Thanks so much for sharing it with all of us.

  • http://blog.dianeshipley.com/ Diane

    It sounds like Joel was an amazing father. What a wonderful, eloquent tribute. I’m so sorry that you all lost him.