Women’s History Month
Embracing Equity Naturally: Lessons Learned from My Dad
By Terri Leigh Rhody
Vice President of Marketing, Sware
My dad passed away coming upon 28 years ago, and there are three times during the year that strike me hardest with thoughts of him: in June (as he passed away 10 days before Father’s Day), in November (his birthday month), and in more recent years in March.
Growing up in rural northern Wisconsin, I had no knowledge of International Women’s Day or the Women’s History Week which extended into Women’s History Month until quite recently in my career - decades after my dad was no longer in my life. However, nowadays, these events in March conjure up memories and reflections, especially concerning how I’m a different person (mother, friend, and a professional) not only because of how he cared for me, but also because of the goodness he embodied, both personally and professionally, in the 12 years I was his daughter.
Jack Rhody first came into my life when he and my mother started dating shortly before I became a teenager – not the optimal time to come into a child’s life, I would imagine. On their second date, he asked her to marry him. To say that I was not pleased is an understatement, and I certainly didn’t keep my feelings hidden.
Sometimes, life doesn’t give you what you want but instead gives you what you need.
My mom and birth father divorced before I turned two years old, and my first stepfather was abusive. When Jack came into my mom’s (and my) life, naturally I was resentful. He not only withstood my displaced anger, but also empathized with me and provided appropriate counsel in a way that I didn’t see at the time. As an AODA (alcohol and other drug) counselor and recovering alcoholic of 20+ years, he had a wonderful knack for framing situations, facilitating conversations, and making his clients feel heard and seen. This permeated his parenting as well and led me down a path towards healing that I still travel.
Growing up with Jack as my dad and being a part of the Rhody family during my teen years changed the course of my life. I was surrounded by people, including my mother, who truly invested in lifting others and who didn’t buy into many of the biases around gender, ethnicity, lifestyle, social status, etc. I was surrounded by allies, before I even realized what it meant to be one.
How my dad embodied his allyship for his family, his clients, and his friends has stuck with me throughout the years. Some of the special qualities he possessed simply can’t be replicated. There are ways he went about being an ally and an all-around good human that I strive for because they are the right things to do, and a part of me feels connected to him when I do so.
Show kindness – even when others do not.
To this day, I’m still in awe of how he brought forth kindness into every interaction. That doesn’t mean he didn’t disagree with people or that he gave a pass to bad behaviors. What he did, though, was assume good intent and engage from a place of neutrality no matter what their perceived status or power level. When others didn’t reciprocate with kindness, he maintained his kindness but didn’t hesitate to call out unnecessary meanness or destructive actions and protected those who were at the receiving end.
Treat others equitably.
He recognized that some people start further back than others through no fault or doing of their own. Showing empathy and adapting how he helped people towards equity was important to him.
Use your voice and your power to empower others.
The stigma of being an alcoholic or drug abuser can have a lot of repercussions, particularly in a small community such as those found in northern Wisconsin. He was proud of his clients and quelled unkind comments about them. He was masterful at conversationally disarming people who spoke unkindly about others. He worked with a lot of people whom others would shun, offering them a hand up. Once they achieved sobriety and were no longer seeing him on a regular basis, he was still their biggest cheerleader.
With this year’s theme of #EmbraceEquity for International Women’s Day (IWD), my dad has been on my mind even more so than normal this March. He embraced equity naturally. As the month comes to a close, let us not leave behind the embracing of equity, but rather strive for it every day forward.
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