My dad was 43 years old when I was born in 1955, the oldest of three kids. I was also the only girl. At my birth, my dad was old enough to be my grandfather.
So not only was there a generational gap, there was a two-generational gap between my dad and I. To complicate things even more, my dad was brought up in the South where there were clear-cut and well-defined traditional rules and roles for everyone in the family.
The children were always seen and never heard and of course they never talked back to their parents or questioned any decisions. They were supposed to always give respect and immediate obedience to the parents.
Girls did not go to college. Girls were supposed to be happy to be “allowed” to finish high school. Then they were expected to get married, and married to someone stable and well-employed, so that they could immediately begin to pop out grandchildren.
Fathers worked and took care of all the money decisions, the budgeting decisions, and in my family’s case, all of the shopping expeditions.
Mothers washed the clothes, fixed the meals, cleaned the house, took care of the children and always deferred with respect to the decisions made by the fathers.
That was how my dad was raised and that was how he grew up expecting marriage and a family to be like. So he was frequently angry because none of us, my mom or my brothers and I, rarely conformed to his expectations.
He tried very, very hard to bully us to adhere to those expectations but each of us, in our individual ways, rebelled against his rigid, dinosaurian viewpoints.
My dad was a good man, with a good heart, but to paraphrase Bob Dylan, the times, they were a changin’, and my dad frequently had a lot of trouble with these new changing attitudes in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
When the sign up sheets were displayed around my high school about the college ACT and the SAT tests schedules, I excitedly thought that I should take the tests, just like all of my friends were going to do.
I had always been a so-so student, and I can’t say I was ever encouraged at home to get excellent grades. My mom mainly wanted me to get good grades only for the bragging rights with our neighbors who had kids my age who were honor students.
Nor was I ever asked about what I would do after high school. I had heard my dad say that crap about what girls should and should not do after high school a couple of times but I didn’t take him seriously.
With all of my friends chatting excitedly about what colleges they were planning on attending and what they were going to major in, their plans really made me stop and think, “Okay, what are you going to do after high school?”
I wasn’t sure at all what I wanted to do but perhaps taking the ACT and SAT tests would be a good first step.
So I brought the letters and permission slips home to my parents. They listened to me eagerly explain what the ACT and the SAT tests were for, that maybe my grades weren’t good enough for scholarships but that I could get a student loan for college if my parents couldn’t help me out in any way with the costs. But I would only know if I took these tests. So who knows, maybe something good could occur.
My dad quite often pleaded poverty but we all knew that he was full of crap. He was a Master-level skilled trades millwright employee in plant 10 of the massive, sprawling Buick car factory complex in Flint. Financially he was doing quite well.
After my explanation about what those tests were for and why I needed them to just sign the permission slips allowing me to take the tests, my dad sighed.
He asked me, “Does me signing this slip make me financially responsible for you to attend college?” “No, dad, it’s just you giving permission for me to take the tests. Maybe I will do well, maybe I will do awful, but no, signing this slip will not make you financially responsible for anything.”
My dad then told me, “Jeneane, here’s the thing. Girls should not waste money or time going to college when they will very soon get married and start having children. I don’t think it’s fair for you to even take the tests when you won’t be going to college and there’s a good chance that you won’t even pass.”
I was shocked! I truly never considered that my dad had been serious that girls just get married and pop out grandchildren. But he was serious! I also felt like he was telling me I’m too stupid for college, which I knew I was not, in spite of what my grades indicated.
With tears threatening to roll down my face and while I tried to control my trembling voice, I asked my dad, “You mean, you won’t even let me try to take these tests? You won’t even let me TRY? You’re telling me that after I graduate from high school, my only future is to get married and that’s IT? And that’s really just because that’s what YOU want me to do? But what if that’s not what I WANT TO DO? Don’t I get a say in what I want? And would you ever say that kind of crap to Keith or to Eugene?”
My dad snapped at me, annoyed that I had talked back to him, “That’s different, they are boys, so they have to plan for their futures. They will be taking those tests, with my permission, when their time comes to do so.”
I yelled at him, “That is so unfair, dad! Women are doing a lot more than being the little stay-at-home-wifey-mama shit now! There is no difference between Keith and Eugene wanting to go to college and me wanting to go to college! But you are trying to cram me into a prison cell that I just do not fit into and you are acting like a jailer or a warden to me just because I’m a girl!”
Then the tears exploded down my face and I ran into my room, so angry at my dad and so upset about my mother’s silence.
My mom! Sitting there as silent as a rock, not supporting me in any way at all! She had always chafed under the dictatorial attitudes of my dad and although I did not approve of the sneaky, manipulative things she did to get around him, I guess I had been futilely hoping she would back me up.
I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do after high school but I knew I would find a way, somehow, to go to college because I had to have more options than just getting married. I had to feel like I was worth more than that.
If marriage was like the one between my mom and dad, no thank you! And children? Maybe, one of these days, perhaps some day. I just really couldn’t see me having kids. I loved kids, other people’s kids, the kids you can give back to their parents when you have better things to do. But marriage and kids just were not my idea of what my future would be like.
I wasn’t due to graduate for another year and a half so I had a lot of time to get something figured out. But apparently my dad was itching to get me “settled”.
A couple of weeks after this argument, my dad sat me down to have a talk. He told me that because of his current age, 60, and his family’s trait of dying of heart attacks before they were even 50 years of age, he never believed that he would even live to see me graduate from high school, let alone that he might have the possibility of seeing all us kids graduate.
I was stunned, I had never known that before. My dad then went on to tell me that he had had an interesting phone call last week from his cousin, Frank Henry, and that is what he now wanted to talk to me about.
My dad’s cousin was another chauvinistic good ole Southern boy like my dad was, only ten times worse. I quickly got the feeling that this “talk” was going to be a doozy.
He said that Frank had known for a long time how concerned my dad was about what would happen to me if he died before I could finish high school.
“Frank told me last week about a long-time neighbor of his, a man I have met before, a good man, whose wife had recently died, leaving this neighbor with three young children to raise by himself.”
“Now this man is an assistant in the Buick sales department and he’s expecting to continue to climb the ladder in that department but the main thing is, Jeneane, is that he will always have a really good, steady income.” my dad continued to explain to me.
“Frank said that that would be a perfect opportunity for you. You could marry this man, raise his kids, and perhaps have one or two of your own and be financially set for life. And I agree with Frank, it would be a good life for you! So what do you think?”
I tried hard to remain calm. “Dad, how old is this man?”
“Well, I think he’s in his mid to late 30’s”
“But dad, I’m not even 17 so this man is most likely twice my age!”
“Yeah, so what? That would mean he has most likely sown his wild oats already and he had already tried to settle down with a wife and kids but it’s a shame his wife died so young. He would be good to you, that’s the main thing,” my dad said.
I incredulously exclaimed, “How do you know that he would be good to me, you don’t even know him! He doesn’t even know me, I don’t even know him! But you want me to think about marrying this guy?”
But then I got suspicious. “Have you or Frank Henry discussed any of this with that man before even talking to me?”
My dad replied, “Well, Frank did show him your picture and that man agreed that you were pretty and that he wouldn’t mind going out on a date with you and getting to know you.”
I blew a gasket! “Dad, I have heard of some bizarre stuff but I have never heard of a dad trying to pimp out his own daughter like she was a hooker!”
“Now you just hold on there one minute, young lady! That is not what I’m trying to do!”
“Um, yeah, dad, that is exactly what you are trying to do! Apparently you and Frank Henry think I am either too stupid or too fragile or too incompetent to take care of myself so that means that I need to be married off to someone who will take care of me. So yeah, in a bizarre way, dad, you are my pimp trying to set me up with a well-off man for life! Wow, thanks for the insult, dad!”
My dad began to yell louder at me. “Every father wants to see his little girl taken care of and it’s even more important to me because I don’t know how much more time I will be given to see that that happens! I’m not trying to insult you, I’m doing this because I love you and I know what’s best for you!”
“But dad, you have never taken into consideration what I WANT to do with my life and you most certainly have never believed that maybe I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I’m not your little girl any more, dad! I’m on my path to being an adult but you’re not letting me be one! You’re still thinking that you need to just tell me what to do and that I need to immediately jump and do that! So yes, you are acting like my pimp instead of my dad,” I yelled back at him.
“And for Frank Henry to actually discuss me with that man and show him my picture without my knowledge or permission? Really dad? How much more like pimps do you and your cousin have to act like?”
I saw my dad getting ready to blow up again because I had once more called him and his cousin pimps, so I quickly told him, “Look, dad, I know you love me and I know you want what’s best for me and I thank you for that. But…..! You have to be made to see exactly how far over the line of decency you and Frank Henry went!”
I continued, “Neither of you have the right to push me into marrying somebody just because he has a good job! Wouldn’t that be me acting like a hooker? And how insulting is it to that man, that the only way I would apparently consider dating or even marrying him is because his wallet and his financial statements have been checked out? And how insulting is that to me if you two really believed I did have that kind of mercenary character? This is not the 1500’s, dad! Sheesh!”
“Well,” my dad gruffly said, “I kind of thought what Frank Henry had done wasn’t right but he only did that because he knew how badly I just wanted to see you all settled and happy in case I do have a heart attack and die young, like my own father did.”
I nodded with understanding as I then told him, “And maybe you might be just a little too eager to have a grandchild, dad, because you’re afraid you will die before you get to hold one. Do you think that that hope and wish may have also been a big part of this whole stupid scheme?”
“Well, you might be right about that too,” my dad reluctantly admitted to me.
My dad then scowled at me. “But I ain’t no god-damned pimp!” I laughed and laughed and eventually my dad had to grin a little bit too about this very bizarre situation.
I had hoped after this strange conversation that maybe my dad had truly learned something from all of this, that perhaps he had learned that girls do have a right to want something other than marriage and kids and that fathers do not have the right to control-freak and shove their kids down the paths that only the fathers want them to go .
After I had graduated from high school and spent 6 months in a not very well-paying job selling encyclopedias, I decided to attend Baker College and do something interesting yet profitable with my life.
I had been going to the library whenever I could to research possible careers and I had become more and more enchanted with becoming a court reporter.
Court reporters were the very silent, unobtrusive persons who sat near where the action is at the front of a courtroom, typing away at a small machine that was on its own slender-legged table.
Court reporters were very well-paid with great benefits and pension packages, especially if they could get hired into a federal courtroom. And lucky for me, there was a U.S. federal court house building right in downtown Flint, only 14 miles away from my Flushing Township home.
And even luckier for me, Baker College in Flint Township, which wasn’t that far from my home, had the court reporting associate degree program that was all I needed to be hired into any of the local, state or federal courtrooms that were in the city of Flint.
So I applied to Baker College, was accepted, and I then spoke to the financial aid office in August 1974.
My financial aid adviser walked me through the student loan application process and worked out the budget that I would need for each quarter for my first year of classes at Baker.
He listed the costs of the classes, including lab fees, the exact cost of all of the books, the costs of all of the extras such as a book bag, notepaper, pens, etc.
All of that information was very necessary for my loan application and then it was mailed to my chosen local bank, Genesee Bank. And I was approved! I had the financial help set up so all I had to do was show up for my classes, and work very hard.
I would have to renew my student loan at the end of my first college year but the bank loan adviser assured me that if I kept my grades up above a C+, renewing the loan should not be a problem.
I was ecstatic! I was beginning to feel like an adult, making well thought-out decisions and doing everything necessary to achieve those goals and decisions.
I had not breathed a word to my mom and dad about any of this. I had just started a part-time job at K-Mart a few months previously so they were happy that I was trying hard to be a productive member of society.
After I had everything all arranged and I was due to start college classes in a week, I then broke the news to my parents that I was now enrolled in college to train to be a court reporter.
They were shocked that I would just leap into this without consulting them at all. I could have retorted back to them that neither of them had ever expressed any interest in whatever I had wanted to do with my life, except to push me to get married and have grandbabies so why would I consult them about this?
And also, ever since that “let’s pimp Jeneane out” awkwardness, I was even more reluctant to tell them anything in advance.
But after they had recovered from their shock, and after I had explained to them what an exciting and interesting career a court reporter had and how lucrative it could be, they resigned themselves to accepting that this was most likely just a temporary madness.
Baker College operates its school year on the quarter system instead of a semester system. Their school year consisted of the Fall, Winter, Spring and Summer quarters, with the first three quarters being the official school year.
My student loan was arranged to cover all of the necessary costs for just those three quarters, with each quarter’s budget carefully worked out previously by my Baker college financial aid adviser.
I took the few required classes (English 101, Political Science, Psychology 101, Business Math) that every student has to take for any degree in the Fall quarter, and I aced them! I was so proud that I had made the Dean’s List! Then I signed up for the first of the actual court reporting classes to be held in the Winter quarter.
Elated that I was now beginning the real court reporting classes, I eagerly walked into the Baker book store to pick out all of my class books and supplies and most importantly, the court reporting machine.
The usual routine was that I had a set amount in my name at the book store for each quarter. Whenever I needed anything during that quarter, I obtained it at the book store and the amount was deducted from what was remaining on that quarter’s balance. If I could keep my costs down each quarter, then that would be less of a burden to re-pay after I had graduated.
So after I had selected the required textbooks and supplies and had their costs deducted from that quarter’s allotment, I had to then ask one of the clerks to bring out from the back one of the brand new court reporting machines. I gasped when she told me it cost $400 but it was a very necessary cost of my college degree.
The clerk brought it out and then tried to ring it up for on the cash register on my account but it wouldn’t go through. She frowned as she tried it again but there was not enough money left in my account for the cost of the machine.
I was appalled! How could there not be enough money left in my account for that quarter? The book store clerk told me that I had to go see my financial aid adviser to figure out what exactly what was going on.
So I ran upstairs as fast as I could and breathlessly asked to see my adviser. I told him what had happened in the book store and I asked him to please double check what was wrong because I had to have that court reporting machine!
So he went over my financial aid paperwork and my loan application and the budget he had figured out for each quarter. Then he said a very soft, “Oh, no.” I worriedly asked him, “What’s wrong? Oh please tell me if there is something wrong that it can be easily fixed!”
He explained that when he had written down all of the costs of the text books, supplies, lab fees, etc., on my loan application, he had mistakenly forgotten to include the actual cost of the court reporting machine. And all of those costs, added up, were the basis of my student loan amount for that first school year.
I asked him, “Well, is there anyway we can amend the loan and now include the court reporting machine because I do not have the $400 cash on hand to purchase the machine myself. Or is there any way to transfer the unused amount left over from the previous quarter into this quarter’s balance? Would that give me enough money for the machine?”
My adviser told me that even if we could transfer last quarter’s unused amount, there still wouldn’t be enough in this quarter’s budget to buy the machine.
My heart sank like a rock into my toes. My adviser then said that since it was his fault for not including the machine’s cost, he was going to immediately call my loan officer at my bank, explain the situation, and hopefully get everything resolved.
But the loan officer said that the only way out of this debacle was for me to try and take out another 2nd loan to cover just the machine’s cost. The problem with that possible solution was that he was very sure it could not be approved before my classes began next week. He also wasn’t sure if that 2nd loan would be approved anyway.
I then asked the loan officer if I could skip the Winter classes and then I could have both the Winter and Spring quarter’s budgets to give me enough money to buy the court reporting machine in the Spring quarter.
But the loan officer shot that idea down. He said that per the loan’s details, I had to have a grade point average above a C+ for each quarter, If I skipped the Winter quarter, I would then default on the loan. Then I would have to immediately begin to make payments on that loan.
I began to cry. I had been so excited and eager to start my court reporting classes and I had wanted to purchase my machine as soon as I could so I could practice on it and become familiar with it before the start of classes next week
Now I would have to drop that class and I would have to wait until the Fall Quarter in the next school year before I could even begin the first of the series of the court reporting classes. And that was assuming that I would be able to get another student loan for the second year. Now I would also have to apply for a third year of student loans because of this stupid delay!
My financial aid adviser profusely apologized for screwing up my loan application and costs budget. I half-jokingly asked him if he had $400 I could borrow and he smiled as he told me no. Then he asked if my parents would give or loan me the money to buy the machine so that I wouldn’t have to wait so long before taking the classes.
I gave a little cynical laugh as I told him, “Well I will try but I’m not too confident of the outcome.” I told him I would keep him updated as to what was happening.
So the next day, I asked my parents if I could chat with them about something important.
We sat around our dining room table and I explained about the mistake that my financial aid officer had made regarding the court reporting machine and my loan. I also explained that the bank could not amend the loan to now include the cost of the machine.
I asked if there was any way that I could borrow the $400 for the machine. I pointed out to them that I had made the Dean’s List with all As in my college classes in the Fall quarter so that should prove to them how dedicated I was to doing well in college.
I showed them the paper that I had already made of a detailed budget of payments. I would able to re-pay them $34 a month for twelve months and then their loan would be paid in full. If they wanted me to pay them interest, I could also make out another monthly payments list. I reminded them that I had my job at K-Mart so there would be no problem in re-paying them.
I also explained that if I could not purchase the court reporting machine in time for next week’s classes, I would have to wait until the Fall Quarter of the next school year to even take the first of the required court reporting classes. That would cause me to fall behind a whole year before obtaining my college degree.
I then wrapped up my logical, common-sense, unemotional argument and I sat back, hopefully confident that they would loan me the money.
I did not tell them that I already knew that they had $400, plus a lot, lot more, in their savings account because I had mistakenly seen their account book recently.
My parents sat there like stones after I had wrapped up my request for them to loan me the $400. My dad then cleared his throat before he told me that they simply could not afford it. He was going to be retiring in a few years so they needed to have as much money as possible in their savings account.
I told my dad that I understood why he needed money since he was planning on retiring in a couple of years. But that I was going to be making monthly payments to them, and with interest too if that would help. Then the loan would be completely re-paid in a year, long before he was due to retire.
So I asked them, again, to please loan me the money or discuss with me any other problems or concerns that they had.
My dad said that he knew that I could and would re-pay them the money but loaning me the money was really not the problem.
Now I was starting to get a bit pissed because my dad was jerking me around. First he had said they could not afford to loan me the money but now my dad was saying that the money was really not the problem.
So I patiently waited to find out what was the real problem.
My dad told me, “We have told you several times that we do not believe in girls going to college but you went behind our backs anyway and enrolled without our knowledge or our permission.”
I interrupted him and explained to him that I was now over the age of 18 and that I did not need his permission to enroll in college.
He waved his hand to wordlessly say that that was an unimportant detail to him as he continued.
“But you did enroll without our knowledge. And now the first time you have a difficulty, you come running to us expecting us to help you out. You are over 18 and since you want to be treated like an adult, we will treat you like an adult and tell you to find the $400 some other way.”
I replied, “Yes, I did enroll without your knowledge and I apologize if that was wrong. But I have been acting like an adult about all of this. I never once asked you to give me any money for gas or for anything else, like Keith constantly does.”
I continued, “And through no fault of my own, I now need a small loan, which I know for a fact you can afford. But you are using this flimsy excuse that because I didn’t tell you beforehand that I was attending college to say no? And to make a point that I need to act like an adult when I HAVE BEEN acting like an adult about this and everything else? Dad. I’m sorry, but that is just plain nuts!”
I continued to argue, “I have a job, I’m getting good grades, and I will be an even more responsible adult with an even better paying job in just two years if I can just purchase the court reporting machine now. How is making me wait an extra year going to help me be more of an adult?”
I looked my dad right in the eye as I finally asked him, “Why don’t you just come out and admit that the real reason you won’t loan me the money is that you are mad at me for not doing exactly what you want and that is to marry anybody I can, and you don’t care who, just so I can start popping out the grandbabies you so desperately want?”
“And why don’t you also admit that if it was Keith or Eugene in this exact same situation, you would be more than happy to loan them the money, heck, you’d probably just give it to them! Be honest dad, be honest!”
Then I turned to my mom and I begged her, I pleaded with her, to please tell my dad how unfair and how prejudiced he was being with me. And to ask him to please allow me to borrow the $400! But she just shook her head and looked at the floor.
My dad told me, “Jeneane, you will eventually realize that everything I have done and will always do is because I have your best interests at heart. I know better than you what is best for you.”
He continued to tell me, “I am not trying to be mean or prejudiced and unfair but boys are different from girls and the adult responsibilities for boys are much different from the adult responsibilities for girls.”
“Why do you want to waste everybody’s time and money going to college when you should be doing what all women have a duty to do and that is to marry, have children and create a happy home,” my dad told me.
“Dad, what if I never get married? Are you going to have me live with you and mom for the rest of my life? How will I take care of myself after the two of you are gone? What is so wrong with me wanting to have a career and a job and a life of my own to enjoy as I choose to enjoy it?”
“Girls and their hopes and their dreams do not have to revolve around marriage and children. Girls are just as important as boys! Dad, I love you but sometimes you can be such an archaic asshole!”
But nothing I said could make him change his mind.
Just like falling dominoes affect the ones in front of them, that decision of my dad’s to not loan me the money for the court reporting machine drastically changed the course of my life, and not necessarily for the better as he truly believed would happen.
Since I would have racked up more of a later bill to repay if I remained at Baker taking unnecessary classes, I dropped out of all of the classes for the Winter Quarter. I had a whole year before I had to start repaying back the loan amount for the Fall Quarter so I thought that this was the best thing for me to do.
I always fully intended to go back and start over again and finally obtain my associate degree.And I kept that hope and that dream alive in my heart and in my soul.
I quickly re-paid my student loan and that greatly helped my credit score. A few months later I was soon hired in June,1975, as a full-time long-distance telephone operator at Michigan Bell. I now had the really good paying job with the great benefits and the nice pension plan that I had wanted sooner than I had expected.
But I still ached to have some sort of college degree. Because of my low seniority I had widely varied hours and work days at Michigan Bell and that made it too difficult for me to enroll in the Fall Quarter at Baker.
But my self-esteem and my self-worth, which were never in the best of shape due to many other reasons besides my parents demeaning attitudes towards me, took a major nose-dive. I struggled hard to truly believe what I had told my parents: that girls mattered just as much as boys.
And a year later in 1976 when my parents took out a $1,600 loan to buy my brother, Keith, his own brand-new tuba, when he was enrolled in Mott Community College’s music education program, that caused my self-esteem to take another deep hit.
They could shell out that much money, for free, to my brother, but they couldn’t loan me a measly $400? That really hurt especially when my father was always so adamantly anti-loan and anti-credit card.
Why did my parents have to continually show me and prove to me so many times that I was just there to be a burden to them until the responsibility for me could be permanently passed to an acceptable husband? Why did they really believe I had no future, or maybe so little intelligence, to take care of myself? Why were being a wife and a mother the only things that mattered to them? Why wasn’t I ever good enough?
I could not understand why penises were more important than vaginas. Because wasn’t that the boiled-down essence of my parents’ life-long teachings?
And maybe those constant internal conflicts and my battles with my self-esteem and self-worth were a major factor into why I accepted a marriage proposal from a guy I had only been dating for a few months, a man I had met shortly after hiring in at Michigan Bell.
Maybe marriage would make me finally acceptable to my parents and maybe I could also get to keep my great job too.
Yeah, that worked out really well. I unknowingly ended up marrying a selfish, narcissistic, bi-sexual pedophile. For whom I soon quit my great job because of his constant complaints that I should now stay at home since I was his wife. Hal Hilliard turned out to be almost as rigidly old-fashioned as my dad was.
But that’s another story.