Father’s Day last Sunday and the fifth anniversary of my father’s death on May 28 got me thinking about how many strong women are strongly influenced by their fathers. Physicist Marie Curie followed in the footsteps of her father, a math and physics teacher who brought lab equipment home and taught his children how to use it. Nuclear physicist Faye Ajzenberg-Selove, also the daughter of an encouraging father, successfully fought discrimination against women on the physics faculties of Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania. When I was writing Queen of the Jews, it occurred to me that Queen Shalom-Zion might well have been influenced by a strong, encouraging father.

My own father’s influence was both positive and negative. He always expected a great deal of me: I often felt I could never do well enough to win his approval. But in the process he taught me how to push myself. His stories were amazing. I especially remember his story of swimming off Coney Island, being narrowly missed by a paddle-wheel ferry and shoved out to sea by the enormous wake. He fought his way back to the beach until he finally collapsed on the shore. All my life I’ve wondered if I could match his enormous will to survive. I developed my own will by fighting back against his domination.

He taught us about turning dreams into reality when he rounded up government loans to turn nearby Blue Knob Mountain into a ski area. He taught about family values by making Blue Knob a family project. He got us all out on the mountain, picking rocks off the slopes. He had grown up in a desperately poor, dysfunctional family with an alcoholic father. When he became a successful businessman, he headed an organization, Tomorrow’s Citizens, to provide mentors for boys who were growing up in such families.

Now that he has been gone for five years, I realize that he influenced me most strongly not just by what he taught me, but by ed with baby judy150th anniversary who he was. He had his temper and his fiercely gloomy days (as I do, too), but he was also naively, crazily energetic and optimistic. He told terrible jokes with great charm. He sang all the time. Every morning I wake up singing his favorite, “The sun is a-shinin’ to welcome the day.” I think, “Thanks Dad. Your songs make me feel that every day is new.”

I hope you will share reminiscences of your parents and the ways they shaped you. Paste them into the comments section of our Woman-Spirit blog on Facebook, or on my web-site judypetsonk.com. Or e-mail them to me at judypetsonk@optonline.net. I will load them onto Facebook and distribute them to women participating in Woman-Spirit. If possible, include a photo of yourself so we can get to know each other and become a community of Women of Spirit.

Love, Judy

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