Being nearly 75, I have grown up in a world that has been characterized by stereotypes of male and female gender-based roles.
Most of my life was spent in a world dominated by women. In my family, it was my mother and four sisters. My dad was great but he was rarely because he was a traveling salesman. Mom was in charge as dad traveled the Southwest deserts in an non air conditioned Chevy peddling children’s and infant’s wear to small stores from Texas to California. He was an important force in all our lives and in a structure that had Mom managing a large gaggle of kids. She too grew up in a family of mainly women, 7 sisters. She had one brother who passed away in his 20s.
This isn’t the first time in my life I have pondered the impact of having grown up in a female-dominated culture. Indeed, there was an effort to find boys for me to play with as a kid.
As I have grown and gone through various stages, I have found that most of my confidants and colleagues have been female. It strikes me how important it is for men to experience cultures which include women and men in life roles that are not gender exclusive.
As part of International Women's Day, I want to celebrate some of the women who have been so important in my life and whom I believe helped me live to my fullest:
My mother, Frieda Alfman Simon. She raised all five of us, was a central figure in a larger extended family, and worked as a bookkeeper for several small companies. She never graduated high school. The picture is of my mother's parents and her one brother -- Sam -- an all the sisters!
My oldest sister, Marion Simon Garmel is 11 years older than I. When I was a teenage boy, she was my go-to crisis counselor. She is a noted American journalist and of the first female reporters on any Dow Jones Newspaper.
Evelyn Ruth Simon Fox, eight years older, was perhaps my ultimate role model. An accomplished acting and debate student through high school, she won a local contest and got a screen test in Hollywood. She married young to a man who became a two-star general in the US Army. Evelyn, like her mother, managed a household – three boys and a girl – often while her husband was deployed in a war zone.
Harriet Rae Simon passed away at the age of 32. She struggled in life with various issues such as dyslexia, long before they were typically diagnosed. Yet, she completed college and taught young kids until cancer took her life. Harriet taught all of us about determination and strength in the face of incredible challenges, including the bullying that “different” students can attract.
My youngest sister, Sylvia Sue Simon Pickens-Owens, is five years my junior. She is a favorite. She gave me someone to boss around! She worked in corporate planning for Parkland Hospital for many years and headed a community health outreach program in Dallas as well. Many people in Dallas have access to health care because of my sister. Her resilience is awe-inspiring. She has lost two husbands to cancer. She found, and indeed continues to find, her way through these challenges. She continues to be a beacon to her community.
Then there is my life-mate, my wife now of 53 years, Susan Meryl Kalmans. I call her “the other half of my whole.” She is the parent of our children. I only played at the role of father. I was always working to save the world. I worked and traveled and was as virtually absent, as my father was in-person absent. I'm so proud of our incredible children, Marcus and Rachael. Since we are talking about women and their accomplishments, our daughter is a pediatric dentist and a community leader. Her wonderful husband works very hard as the more at-home parent to their two daughters and manager of an array of other activities managing their complex lives.
We have three granddaughters and a daughter-in-law. My son’s wife is Rachel Goldstein Simon. This Rachel, not to be confused with our daughter Rachael, is a leader in our community. She is in charge of the family as her husband, our son, spends months in Richmond, Virginia as a legislator each year. As I reflect, I see a theme here that transcends generations.
So, there you go. International Women’s Day. If you want women to celebrate and admire, do I have a group for you!