Before going forward, I think it would be best for me to explain where I learned what it means to be a strong woman.
Of course, as a man, my ability to understand what it means to be a woman is extremely limited. However, I can say that I was raised with strong role models. Above all, Mom was the strongest.
My Mother came from New Mexico, which to me was like an entirely different country. We lived in Long Island, New York. I grew up in a normal, everyday town with normal everyday problems. We were a middle income family with a small home located on a main street, just five houses north of the nearest cross street. I was born in 1972. My older brother, David, was born six years before me.
My Father worked hard. He was a blue collared man, strong, heavy handed and strict but loving. Our country was a different place back then. We had things like the oil crisis. Our technology was limited; therefore, our family interacted more. There were fewer distractions and fewer luxuries but times were easier then.
As I write to you, I have a small tiger sitting next to me. He is a stuffed tiger named Tuffy. He has been a friend to me since I was 8 years-old. My good friend Tuffy came to me by way of the gift shop when I was in the hospital for gastroenteritis.
Mom brought him to me. She would not leave the hospital. No matter what happened or how she felt; no matter how tired Mom was, she never left my side. She put Tuffy by my side because at the time, obviously, I was sick. My arms were swollen from the I.V. needles. I was painfully and physically uncomfortable. I was vomiting and sick. And Mom gave me Tuffy as if to say, “Hang in there, kid!”
While my Father worked hard to earn his living, Mom took care of us and the home because this was her life at the time. However, as a wedge progressed between my Father and his work life, my Mother encouraged The Old Man to open his own business.
She researched grants and ideas to help open and build a business in an otherwise male dominated industry.
And just like that . . . Mom built a company from the sidewalks of Jamaica, Queens. She earned contracts with city organizations. She built this company from the ground up. The Old Man serviced the accounts and Mom landed new ones. She built relationships. She created opportunities. Of all things, Mom never allowed anyone to limit her or her abilities simply because she was a woman.
Something I learned is that we model our life according to the blueprints we have been taught. We are taught how to be and how to live. We are taught about the social norms and regular routines as well as the ideas, either limited or specified by gender, and from this we create our own blueprint. But what if this blueprint is not meant for us? What if our blueprint is to break the mold and escape the norm?
What if being a parent is not our goal? What if marriage is not our choice or in the cards? What then? What do we do if our hopes and dreams and our desires are different from the common social blueprints we’ve been taught and ingrained to believe?
We need to step away from the social constructs and definitions. We need to work towards our own hopes and our own dreams. Rather than build from the standard blueprints, we cannot be afraid to design a new future. We need to be our own designer, builder and architect. At least, that’s what my Mom said.
It’s true, I am not a woman nor do I know or fully understand what it means to be a woman. I don’t know what it means to be a woman in the workplace or in the world today nor is this a claim to say that I understand. I just know what my Mom taught me, which is that you can be anything you want to be. You just have to work it. No matter what comes your way or stands in your way, Mom says you just have to keep going.
No one has the right to determine or define your future.
This is your job.
That’s what my Mom taught me.
Now, if I’m being honest, Mom was the strongest woman I have ever met. She raised me with all my faults and struggles. She endured. She also lived the last years of her life with five painfully degenerative diseases in her spine.
Towards the end, Mom was far from herself. Towards the end, after all the fighting and all the struggles; after the years in assisted living, Mom’s body began to shut down. I honored Mom’s wishes and signed the paperwork to allow Mom to be taken from life support. She never wanted anything to breathe for her or live for her. She always wanted to do this on her own.
When we held Mom’s services, it was me, standing in front of the congregation. I stood at the podium with a bag at my side. I discussed what the meaning of strength is and what I was taught throughout the years. I told the story about the hospital. Then I reached down into the bag to bring out my old friend Tuffy and said, “You were the tough one Mom.”
You always were.
With all my heart and with all I have, I do not believe that anyone is (or should be) limited by their gender. Instead, I believe people limit themselves based upon the deception of their perception and the inaccuracies of the blueprints they were coerced to follow.
No matter what the obstacles may be, Mom told me to keep going and never quit.
You would have liked my Mom.
She would have liked you too.
She would have told you to keep going.
She’d have told you, “I built a business from a sidewalk.”
And then she’d have said, “If I can do that, you can do anything!”
My Mom was the best!
Told you I had a good role model . . .