In honor of my daughter’s—my only daughter’s—21st birthday, I recalled Dad and I watching Miss America pageants, NFL football, and movies during my youth. There were numerous lessons and impressions built into me just from spending leisure time together, and I suppose inadvertently those seemingly benign and idle moments somehow molded my character, expectations, and goals in life. The funny thing is that I also perceive the same mechanism guiding my own children.
Where are our youth’s role models of today? Do they hold the values that we cherished from times past? Dad and I (remember we were not Muslim at the time) used to carefully judge contestants from beauty pageants in the 60’s and 70’s. The young women became icons of scholarship, poise, physical perfection, aesthetic fashion style, and personality. I always noted height and weight, size of thighs, posture, and type of build in the swimsuit competitions. Evening gown competitions brought fantasy to life in my young mind, and we were not only critical of the talent performance, but what choice the contestants made to demonstrate talent. Would the contestant play concert piano, sing a song, dance ballet or to modern music, or would she play the harp? These choices reflected a certain pedigree that we perhaps also unconsciously evaluated to determine if the contestant was deserving of the title or just privileged. Typically, the Q&A often was the tie-breaker, as Dad and I pitched out our top 3 choices, and often we were in agreement with each other and in close alignment with the official judges.
In spite of our loyal spectator status to the annual round of pageants, I never aspired to enter one myself nor condoned my own household to watch them when I became married and had my own kids.
Football with Dad typically favored rival teams to our Chicago Bears, like the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. My youthful training in the rules, positions, and plays of pro football gave me knowledge of the sport that permitted entry to the bastion of college dorm spectatorship, where I could be readily conversant and expand my social network. Those were the days that inspired us with leadership by the “punky QB” Jim McMahon; outstanding feats of Sweetness AKA Walter Payton; the graceful athleticism of Willie Gault; the gladiator drive of Dan Hampton; and massive, lovable “Fridge” William Perry whose versatility kept the opponent guessing, especially surprising everyone with a couple touchdowns!
Coaches too were instructive characters demonstrating leadership styles with varying temperaments. Coach Ditka for the Bears was loud, often annoyed, and unabashedly driven to never be apologetic. Coach Vince Lombardi was disciplined, toughly aggressive, loyal to the essence of “winning is everything.” Then there was Bud Grant, who coached the Vikings using plenty of practice in cold weather to acclimate the team to raw difficulty, and valuing control of one’s emotions, as he led them over his career to four Super Bowls.
These competitive events, pageants, and football, along with several movies all emphasized strength; courage; practice; discipline; planning; teamwork; enduring failure, discomfort, and pain; and perseverance. Specific movies that come to mind were: Bridge on the River Kwai, Where Eagles Dare, Von Ryan’s Express, and Lawrence of Arabia. All had to conquer their fears and execute performance in spite of it, and sometimes had to risk death to do the right thing. These are the elements that heroes are made of.
Yet, we also value compassion, grace, style, and some appreciate education and refinement more than others. These qualities were presented through the 60’s film of Julie Andrews via Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music. As nanny for some boisterous children, Mary Poppins exhibits patience with firm expectations of compliance and decorum, and Maria, the novitiate turned governess, shares her joie de vie, love of music, and sincere heart with the Von Trapp family, who sorely need her cheerful disposition, trust in faith, and respect for wise authority for guidance. Inner strength fortified by outer constructs characterizes the individual who relies on institutional and social support. In retrospect, many people have the same needs as Maria and often consult similar resources.
Lastly, a person who has become a current pop culture icon is Audrey Hepburn. As a girl, my parents took me to see My Fair Lady at the cinema, and I was swept away by Eliza Doolittle’s metamorphosis from a squalid duckling into an elegant, bejeweled swan. So taken by the character, I even sang my first solo for my 4th grade class to “I Could Have Danced All Night” and found my mezzo soprano voice the perfect match to the tune. The value of learning the manners, protocols, and culture of the higher echelon was clear.
With this in mind, I suppose I unconsciously indoctrinated my daughter in such awareness. When she was in elementary school, I bought the VHS tapes of Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady. What I find amazing is that she has chosen to post a Facebook profile picture (seen above) of herself reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn, and some of her crowd has assumed wannabe photos…but of course my daughter is the best! Come to think of it, she has probably influenced her own affect by watching Fran Drescher in reruns of The Nanny, that brash, hilarious, ding-dong, come-what-may character who gets lucky in entry to the wealthy class while maintaining her Bronx roots.
Now my daughter is 21, an elegant, accomplished, most confident and regal swan of whom I am very proud. By intuitive design, I have found my wish come true to have a daughter who is part Spartan, like an Amazon, with wry humor and a heart of gold, who possesses her own sense of style, leadership, and power; and she has brains, wisdom beyond her years, and savvy to survive the future challenges that we know life will bring. As her mother, I know that we will still butt heads at times, but I will always love her and would wish for no other to be my daughter, my legacy.
With the conclusion of this, I am about to make this blog readership expand to my family, and feel it especially winsome to note that my sister just delivered her first daughter, an addition to her 3 sons…on my daughter’s 21st birthday!