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Standing your ground in shifting sand

When I was 20 years old and clueless as to what I wanted to be when I grew up, a few of my friends started talking about moving to Hawaii. It wasn’t just talk. My roommate’s mom lived there, and a little outpost was forming on the North Shore of Oahu, including my boyfriend, Mark.

I’d already suffered a few blows in my first-year foray into real life at the University of Minnesota. A Women’s Studies professor gave me a C- on a paper and when I questioned the grade, she accused me of plagiarizing. She said the writing seemed familiar and it was too good for freshman work. I eventually talked (or cried) her into giving me an A-, but I was bruised. I thought I might want to be a radio or TV journalist, but based on my fragile ego, I wasn’t sure I could compete. Even though I’d survived a physical assault while in high school, I didn’t regard myself as much of a fighter.

I told my folks I was thinking about taking a break and moving to Hawaii, maybe even attending journalism school there, but I wasn’t sure. I went back and forth in my typical manner for weeks and weeks. Driving me to a therapy appointment, my dad said, “I just wish you wouldn’t follow Mark around all the time. Make a decision for yourself.”

This only made it worse. Thinking for myself became impossible. If I went where my boyfriend was going, I was following him. If I didn’t go to Hawaii, I was following my father’s wishes. Either way I turned, the choice was no longer mine.

After I was assaulted, my dad actively sought justice, and he was very supportive of my seeking justice. He was proud when I spoke up for myself. But there were times when I felt like his fighting for me came at the expense of me fighting for myself. As a parent and my elder, he had experience and wisdom I lacked. At the same time, as the person who had been attacked, I needed to claim my voice.

I talked to a girlfriend about the move to Hawaii. “You have to block out what everyone else thinks you should do,” she said. “You need to really listen to yourself. What do you want to do?”

Of course, I decided to move to Hawaii. It was January. I’d spent my whole life in Minnesota. I was 20. For nine months, Mark and I lived on the North Shore of Oahu. I waited tables at Pizza Bob’s and Rosie’s Mexican Cantina. I read Anne Morrow Lindberg’s Gifts from the Sea and collected shells. I met people who were different from me. Ideas for stories started forming in my head and I realized I wanted to be a writer.

My dad was absolutely right in urging me to make decisions for myself. I wish he’d lived to see me quit following Mark around all the time. I wish he could see how I’ve raised my kids to be independent thinkers. Maybe it’s a tougher conundrum with dads and daughters, considering the female instinct to talk through issues and the male instinct to fix everything. Maybe it’s just part of learning how to think for ourselves, apart from being a daughter or a son, a mother or a father.
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