50s: Dad Taught by Example; Mom by Talk

We were a typical family of the fifties. Dad was the breadwinner and Mom kept house. We had a family meal at six o’clock every weekday and most weekend days too. 

Gender roles were set. Mom kept the house clean, did the laundry, managed the kids, did shopping, made dinner, bought our clothes, and took us to the library on Tuesday nights, took us to doctors and dentists, and managed our chores and did most of the child raising. She’d have occasional work days, like cleaning up our rooms on a Saturday, and sometimes even vacuuming the living room. Sometimes she’d “go on the warpath” and we’d all avoid her. 

Dad was the best Ophthalmologist on the West Coast. He didn’t have odd hours, so he was home in time for dinner every day, preceded by two stiff drinks every day except when he had surgery the next day. Mom also had two stiff drinks before dinner. 

Dad supported Mom’s child raising and pitched in with a united front when needed, but his interaction with us was mostly around fun. He loves sports and brought us along with enthusiasm. He taught us football, basketball, baseball, gold, and tennis. He shared his life with us easily, not really sacrificing, just being happy to have us with him doing things he liked to do. Dad was also in charge of the yard, and he’d also have occasional work days that we hated, outside in the yard. Chip and I worked with him planting a lot of trees and shrubs to landscape the house. 

Mom taught by talk, and, her special grace, talk as equals. She’d drop her guard with me, open up, and share her views on the issues of the day.  We talked about politics, the war, hippies, free speech, Betty Friedan, the greening of America, civil rights, Kennedy. And we talked about questioning authority, Mom’s deep sense of right and wrong, and her passion for ideas. 

Dad taught almost entirely by example. Dad taught by sharing part of his life that he liked. He taught us sportsmanship and achievement on the ball fields, concentration on the golf course, focus on the tennis court. He taught us love as doing things, being there, quietly, constantly, off to work, back at dinner, being the best ophthalmologist west of the Mississippi, being a good friend, being home with us when he was home, and being the best in everything from his practice, to his fathering.