“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.