As a toddler my dad would strap me into a backpack and go on hours-long hikes, exploring nature: forests, streams, hills. Growing up he took all of my siblings and me to the library every week. We loved going to the library and picking out epic chapter books he would read with us every night. We would read about and dream of glorious adventures together.
When I was five years old my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. “Judge or a waitress,” I replied. He let me know implicitly and explicitly from that very young age that I could be, and would be, anything I wanted. My dad didn’t ever have to tell me “you can do anything a boy can do” … I just knew inherently that I could because of how he treated me.
My dad called himself the “laundry king” and could always be found in his kingdom (the laundry room) folding clothes after he got home from work. He picked me up from all of my soccer games. He learned how to French braid my hair; he would spray my two feet of dark-brown hair every morning with “No More Tears” tangle spray, and put my hair in two braids. It wasn’t special that he did the laundry and braided my hair. It was sensible.
In high school my dad gave me an internship at the newspaper he ran. He lent me his camera and let me take photos of community events for print. He trusted me and let me grow. Late one night when I was 16 years old, I took the family mini-van for a spin with friends without asking my parents’ permission. I returned guiltily to the house after crashing it into the neighbor’s mailboxes. I still remember to this day my dad gritting his teeth and summoning all of his emotional reserves, “I am disappointed. But most of all, I’m just glad you’re ok.”
My dad, a convert to the Church, encouraged me to serve a mission – to say “encouraged me” does not quite capture his commitment to the idea. He was tremendously persistent. When I served my mission in Barcelona, Spain, he sent one postcard per day to me my entire mission (that is not hyperbole…every day). He made them himself. They were cut out of cardstock and decorated with photos, newspaper clippings, stickers, or photos from magazines. They were eccentrically scrapbooked reminders that he never forgot about me. Not even for one day.
My dad is the kind of father you would find in a world where the word “feminist” is unneeded. Where the fact that women and men are equal is so very apparent and obvious that stating it goes completely without saying. Gender parity comes naturally.
He calls me a “renaissance daughter of the restoration.”
When I told my dad I wanted to start a group called Ordain Women, he immediately said, “you were born for this” and started preparing a profile for the site. He has been at every Ordain Women action. At the launch event on April 6, 2013 my dad wore a suit and tie, as reverent as any Church meeting. He took so many photos that people in the crowd got suspicious that he was documenting the event for those in Church headquarters. I had to reassure them that he was a proud parent, not a spy.
The pain of my excommunication has been hardest on my dad. Growing up he was the most zealous Mormon you could ever meet. He carried several copies of the Book of Mormon around in his car and would give them to everyone he met. He would give them to the guy who filled up his gas at the gas station or to people he met on the ski lift. I even remember a story of him giving one to Daniel Ortega, notorious dictator, on a trip to Nicaragua.
My dad moved to Provo, Utah to take a job at BYU. He left behind a beautiful town and community that he loved in Oregon because he felt called to be amongst the Saints.
My dad converted to Mormonism, leaving his Lutheran upbringing behind. Something his parents and family never really understood. Now he is feeling so devastatingly ostracized by his LDS community, the pain he caused his parents is felt afresh, even though they have long since passed.
He wrote this poem:
Missing Mom & Dad
Copyright Jim Kelly May 2015
I haven’t mourned Ruby and Earl for nearly two decades
Although I miss them from time to time and wonder
What they’re up to.
They were strong Nordic stock who scratched an honest
Living on the Northern Plains with simple Lutheran faith in
Hard work and a just God.
When I went away to college I found a new religion.
It broke their hearts.
The whole time our kids were growing up they couldn’t
Understand and I couldn’t understand why so we just
Didn’t talk about church.
Our new faith wasn’t Sunday-only and for nearly forty years
We towed the line and did our best to help build the kingdom
With all the faith we had.
When we finally asked why women aren’t equal we were shunned.
It broke my heart.
Sundays are the hardest days because we’d spent almost
Two thousand weeks worshipping in a pattern we owned
And now it’s broken.
We still yearn for the fellowship of the body of Christ and
Our testimonies are intact but our faith in men is doused
So tonight I’m grieving.
When I get to heaven I’m gonna track down mom and dad.
It will mend our hearts.
His pain and heartache have recently manifested physically and my dad had to have emergency bypass surgery. Yet, through the pain, both physical and spiritual, he continues to smile. He has an absolutely unquenchable zest for life. He also had a rigid moral compass. He says that standing up for women “just makes sense.”
Girls learn by example; and, I have learned:
A father is someone who stands up for his daughters.
A father is someone who looks at his girl children and sees possibility. He propels their potential.
A father is someone who lets you know, every day of your life, that your worth has nothing to do with how you look, what other people say about you or who you are partnered with.
A father is someone who has your back.
A father takes pride in parenting, and sees his role as the Laundry King as part of his preparation for the eternities.