When I asked my friend Helen Gardiner-Parks to sit down and tell me her story, she put me off. Her gut reaction was that she didn’t have a story. I get that a lot. It’s like catnip to me. I knew different.
Helen graduated from Wellesley. She holds a graduate degree. She started her own nutrition business. She raised three strong daughters, home-schooling them. She stood by the side of a sister who ultimately died of a heroin addiction. She is one amazing person.
So why was this brilliant and accomplished person telling me she didn’t really have a story worth sharing? What is holding her back? She calls it her “unworthiness monster.” She named the monster George. My first name is George. I’m gonna try not to take that personally. But I do think it has a lot to do with trying to be a strong woman in an overwhelming male culture.
The word “feminist” has had a bad rap. That’s not by accident. It comes with our culture. Helen was early to the feminist party. She and I share one thing in common. We are both the parents of three strong-willed daughters. We want this next generation of women to be able to make their own choices. We want them to earn equal pay for equal work. We don’t want our daughters to have to run a gauntlet of harassment as a rite of passage. We want things to get better.
Helen has learned a lot over the years. She has bounced back again and again. She embodies resilience. And the challenges just keep coming. When I last caught up with her by phone, she was in Pennsylvania saying good-bye to her father who is dying. I know what that’s like. My birth mother is in hospice care as well and she is not conscious much of the time. I’m not sure if she knows who I am.
But Helen and I continue to visit our parents because we care. We are trying to do for our parents what they did for us. Stay strong and model resilience. We serve two generations at once – our parents’ and our kids’. I’ll be the first to say it’s a lot easier for the men than the women.
But just listen to her story. She’s got a powerful, inspiring narrative. I’m grateful to call her my friend.
HELEN GARDINER-PARKS TELLS HER STORY @MANLISTENING PODCAST THURSDAY, APRIL 8, 2021.