At first glance Tina Fey’s autobio Bossypants is a quick, light, summer beach-type read that some may assume she wrote to capitalize on her growing fame. In actuality, it contains lots of important insights about class, sexual orientation, parenting practices, sexism, and the creative process. I dig her humor, her writing, her politics, her toughness.
One would have to credit her dad, Don Fey, with her toughness. In an early chapter she tells his story. She ends that chapter with this:
My dad has visited me at work over the years and I’ve noticed that powerful men react to him in a weird way. They “stand down”. The first time Lorne Michaels met my dad, he said afterward, “Your father is. . . impressive.” They meet Don Fey and it rearranges something in their brain about me. Alec Baldwin took a long look at him and have him a firm handshake. “This is your dad, huh?” What are they realizing? I wonder. That they’d better never mess with me, or Don Fey will yell at them? That I have high expectations for the men in my life because I have a strong father figure? Only Colin Quinn was direct about it. “Your father doesn’t fucking play games. You would never come home with a shamrock tattoo in that house.”
My dad, also named Don, would have liked Don Fey. My siblings and I, like the peeps who worked for him, had a healthy fear of my dad. He was tough-minded, but never even close to abusive. We were taught to answer the phone, “Byrnes residence, Ron speaking.” Of course he just answered it, “Don Byrnes”. We learned the planets didn’t revolve around us.
In the later stages of Bossypants TF writes:
I have once or twice been offered a “mother of the year” award by working-mom groups or a mommy magazine, and I always decline. How cold they possibly know if I’m a good mother? How can any of us know until the kid is about thirty-three and all the personality dust has really settled?
Amen to that. I have a good fifteen years to go before you can judge my parenting. I don’t pretend to have it all together.
In a chapter titled, “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter,” Fey writes:
And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister, give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends, for I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.
Fey, based upon her unparalleled genius for self-deprecation, has self-esteem to spare. Similarly, I would score well on a self-esteem eval. My guess is, Alice Fey, TF’s five year old, is going to have above average self-esteem. Why? In part because her mom will not have that Shit.
I suspect many of my peers with children would say the “old school” parents named Don from the 60’s and 70’s weren’t nearly affectionate enough. But sometimes modern day affection-based parenting crosses over into an “I’m going to be my child’s older more stable friend” approach to child-rearing that I’m guessing results in 33 year-olds with more self-esteem issues than the children of more strict, less therapeutic “old school” parents like the Dons.
I think the GalPal and I have done an admirable job splitting the difference. We’re affectionate with our daughters, but they also know we have clear limits and always expect to be respected. They’d probably say we’re one-part touchy-feely, one part, will not have that Shit.
[Postscript—thinking about this further, maybe strict but loving parenting contributes to children’s later resilience more than it does their self-esteem. I’ve theorized about where self esteem comes from before here.]