I was eight-years old, a third grader, riding in the passenger seat of my dad’s car. We were on a familiar 9-mile stretch of two-lane highway headed home. A newspaper sat on the bench between us. I read it for a bit before seeing a word in an article that I didn’t know. As was customary, I stopped reading and inquired about the word.
“Dad, what does ‘fondled’ mean?”
“Read the sentence to me, Jamie,” he responded. I read it aloud to him.
He cleared his throat, his bass voice rumbling along with the car’s motor.
“It’s when a person touches another person’s private parts without necessarily having their permission.”
I knew my dad. I knew he was uncomfortable. I wasn’t raised in a family who openly discussed sex at any point of my life. I learned the word “vagina” from Kindergarten Cop when I myself was a kindergartner.
Dad kept on driving, sitting in his own awkward silence. I sat in complete awe. In that moment I realized that my dad – a stoic, straight-laced, perfectly postured gentleman – just answered me honestly. Despite an unpleasant topic. Despite it being awkward for him. Despite his little girl asking about an incident that was far from innocent. He answered me honestly.
With that one honest and uncomfortable (for him) answer, I saw that he took me – a kid – seriously. I knew that moving forward, no matter what I ever asked my dad, he’d give me a straight answer. That knowing made me feel incredibly safe and loved.
Dad didn’t know it, but he taught me a second word on that car ride home: Respect.
Up to that point I knew that Dad loved me. That’s when I learned that he also respected me. Love and respect – they’re the greatest gifts dad ever gave me.
That day, they came wrapped in an honest answer.