[NOTE: This is written for Net Cotton Content by Helen Hazelwood Isaac.]
When I was seven years old, the fathers of my classmates at Columbus School for Girls organized a retreat to a YMCA campsite. There were about twelve father-daughter pairs, and we all slept together in a cabin, the fathers on the bottom bunks and the girls up above. After our first night on the campgrounds, Artie and I held a private conference.
“Did you notice how in the middle of the night a lot of your classmates said, ‘Daddy’?”
I had noticed. Every time a classmate needed her father to bring a glass of water, walk her to the bathrooms, or dispense of an insect, she would quietly whisper, “Daddy?” into the dark cabin.
“If you need to wake me up tonight, or any other night, I want you to call me ‘Artie,’ ok? That way I’ll know when it’s you and not one of the other girls.”
It was a good plan, and it stuck.
I’ve called my father by his given name ever since that trip. Perhaps it felt natural because “Artie” is a nickname, and gave me the same feeling as the many other words I’d learned for father: papa, abba, daddy. For a long time I’ve called my mother, Alisa, by her name as well, and over the years I’ve learned to note how different people react to this habit.
When I was a small child, it was beyond bizarre. I would screech Artie’s name theatrically in my high-pitched voice, thoroughly enjoying the attention it got me. In high school, I performed less for the adults around me and more for my peers; my apparent contempt for traditional domestic hierarchies bought me respect amongst my friends.
In reality, I was not at all contemptuous. I have always respected Artie deeply and Alisa even more so, and aside from a handful of angst-ridden adolescent explosions, I have done a decent enough job of treating my parents with respect over the years.
I’ve come to understand, however, that the way my family thinks about respect is not typical.
My parents have treated my brother, Duncan, and me as their equals for as long as I can remember, and people outside my immediate family sometimes read the way Duncan and I speak to our parents as insolent.
But this is not how Artie and Alisa understand it. Neither of them has ever used my age to invalidate my opinions; dissent and insubordination are frequent and welcome occurrences in our house.
And it is our house.
I’m often asked what it was like to grow up in “Artie Isaac’s house,” and the question consistently bewilders me. Artie, whose work is highly public and who performs expertly as a public speaker, a teacher, and an actor, is often mistaken for the head of his household. But I did not grow up in Artie’s house. At every turn it has been made clear to me, by Artie more than anyone else, that my family home and everything it represents — our possessions, our knowledge, our successes as individuals and as a unit — belong to Alisa, my mother.
We have each contributed to our family home in our own way, we are each indispensable to each other, but it is Alisa to whom everyone else defers. Alisa and Artie ensured — both through their own behavior and by choosing to enroll me at CSG — that I grew up with a definite idea of where women belong: female space, they’ve taught me, is everywhere.
“Female space,” especially as it exists in the professional world, has been a topic of increasingly frequent conversations between Artie and me lately, and we’ve decided on this Father’s Day to begin a series of collaborative posts, written by me but drawn largely from these conversations about gender and work.