In early August 1968, just weeks after Bobby Kennedy was killed, my father and I took a walk through the fields of my great-grandmother’s house and plotted my career.
We didn’t know that at the time. I was only 11. He was 31, a father of four who had already worked for more than a decade at the local power plant. Those few facts about him make me shake my head at how young he was, how overwhelmed he must have felt so much of the time.
My beloved grandma BeBout’s farmhouse was a half-hour and a world away from our home in small-town Ashtabula, Ohio. I was supposed to spend just two weeks with her, which is why Dad was there. Minutes after his arrival, our collective tears persuaded him to let me stay longer.
For the first time, it occurred to me that my father was capable of missing me. He wasn’t in a hurry to leave, and he asked whether I wanted to go for a walk. We trudged through the cornfield and kept going, Dad jingling the coins in his pants pocket with one hand as we strolled.
I had just finished reading a paperback about Bobby Kennedy’s life. It was one of those quick-press editions sold down the street at a newsstand owned by a woman we all called Aunt Louise even though she was no relation. She often let me sit in the back of the store to read paperbacks free. When the Kennedy book arrived — I think its cover was glossy white with a small black-and-white photo of Bobby at the top — she gave it to me as a gift because she knew how sad I was that he had died.
I don’t recall how I brought up the book to my dad, but I do remember being surprised at how he paid attention as I told him about what I’d read. At one point, I made my announcement. I remember the wording only because he never forgot it.
“I think I’ll go into politics, Dad,” I told him. “Maybe write books about it or something.”
My father didn’t laugh or make fun of me. He just nodded his head and assured me that after I went to college — a nonnegotiable in our family — I’d be able to do anything I want. Politics would be a fine profession, he said, as long as I remained a Democrat.
“Maybe one day,” he said, “you could even be president.”
I’m not sure he believed that, but he wanted me to, and I don’t have any doubt he’d vote for Hillary Clinton if he were alive today. Not because he was a feminist. Lord, no. His affection for strong women began and ended with his three daughters, but our persistence would have gotten him there.
I grew up in a time when a woman who owned her own newsstand was famous because she was so rare. Aunt Louise was unmarried, which the grown-ups tirelessly pointed out as the reason she could do such a thing. What else did she have to live for?
I share this story from my childhood to illustrate just how long I’ve been waiting for something I could imagine at such a young age. There are so many women like me. We were born in a time when most of the country believed that white women should be sequestered at home, but we dared to believe we would grow up to be evidence to the contrary. I emphasize the privilege of our race because so many women of color never had the option to stay home.
Plenty of good people support Bernie Sanders, but his bullies are out of control. I am so over them. I no longer care when they accuse me of voting my gender. How interesting that they think there’s something wrong with so many women who want, for the first time in history, to see themselves reflected in the most powerful person in the world.
I support Clinton for a long list of reasons. The Sanders bullies say that makes me part of the “establishment.” I wish my working-class parents had lived long enough to hear that. How they would have howled.
There was a time when I got worked up over those voices of superiority telling me who I am because I don’t want what they do. I couldn’t care less now. My roots are my legacy, and I don’t owe anyone an apology or explanation for who I am.
When I was 11 years old, my dad told me a little girl could grow up to be president.
Forty-eight years later, I believe him.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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Photo: People cheer as they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in Carson, California, U.S., May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson