Jenny Kanevsky’s father let her jump off a bridge teaching her that she could do anything
When I was a kid my mom and her other teacher friends would rent a giant old farmhouse in upstate Pennsylvania. Up to seven families at a time. It was a big hippie fest and it was great. The kids would pile onto mattresses and beds and into sleeping bags in the biggest room of the house, and that’s where we slept. All of my mom’s friends had sons. My younger sister and I were the only girls. I didn’t even notice. It just was.
We’d have communal meals, play outside and unsupervised most of the day, usually softball or roller-skating around the inside of the barn. Sometimes we’d explore the depths of the barn, rooms that hadn’t been opened in years. There were bats and cobwebs and pranks, of course. Those boys were like my brothers. Still are.
Often, we’d go to a local swimming hole. We stood out. This was rural, blue collar territory. We were middle class, mostly Jewish, and out of our element. One day, at one of our regular spots, we had company, or I should say, we were the company. A group of local boys were hanging out, and a little taken aback by our arrival.
They started to mark their territory, and fast. We were on the shoreline, they were above on the bridge 35 feet above the creek. As soon as we arrived, they started jumping off the bridge, one at a time, and then they’d scramble up again through the brush. They were hooting and laughing and having a great time.
“Dad, I want to do it,” I said.
My father is a photographer, so always had a camera with him. He’d been taking pictures of the boys and was distracted.
“Do what, Jen? Jump off?”
“Yes. I want to.” I was about ten. The rest of our group was splashing happily by the shore or having a picnic or skipping rocks. But I was mesmerized by the local boys.
“OK, let’s go up, I’ll take a picture.”
My stomach wrenched into a knot. And then I jumped off a bridge.
I learned to feel the fear and do it anyway. When we got to the top and I stood there looking down, I wasn’t so sure. The locals were rapt. “It’s a girl!” I heard. “Hey, no girl has ever done that, you know,” one of them called out. My dad looked at me and said “Well, you’ll be the first then.” He didn’t say, “Maybe it’s not safe,” or “Let’s let one of the boys go first.” And, by the way, none of the boys in our group had any interest in hurling their bodies off a 35 foot bridge nor would their parents have allowed it. My mother would have been apoplectic. But, my dad left it up to me. He said I didn’t have to if I was scared. I said I was, but I wanted to do it anyway. And I did. I felt like I was flying, I felt the strongest I’d ever felt, and I loved it.
That day, my father taught me that being afraid of something doesn’t mean you don’t do it. Doing adventurous, scary things, emotionally or physically, was always part of my spirit. I desire to do more, feel more, and be pushed me out of my comfort zone. After that jump (and subsequent jumps because once was not enough) I felt a sense of mastery and independence that has stayed with me to this day. Had my father showed or projected his fear onto me, I might have missed out on becoming who I am today.
I also learned that my father, the most important man in my world, believed in me. We have had other issues over the years and don’t have much contact now, but when we do it’s positive. I know he thinks I’m strong and accomplished and has never made me feel like my world was limited because of my gender. He believes in me. He may have been worried about the bridge jump. He may have thought her mom will kill me, or I shouldn’t let her do this, but he didn’t allow his anxiety to stifle my excitement. He didn’t pepper me with “are you sure you’re not scared?” or “You might get hurt.” I was scared, and I could have been hurt, but had he hounded me, I’d have questioned myself. With all of our issues before and since, I can say that my father always believed in me. He’s proud, in awe even, of my strength and courage. And for a daughter, from her father, that is invaluable.
I learned that girls and boys are not that different, at least they don’t have to be. Mixed in with a group of surrogate brothers wasn’t always easy. I ran slower in softball, I struck out more, but I was motivated to get better and I did. I became a good athlete. Sometimes, we’d do more stereotypical “girl” activities. We did everything together, it didn’t matter. We put on plays, we often held mock trials in the barn, and we all slept in the same room together at night, each in their own bed or sleeping bag. I had a comfort toy, the boys had these too. No one cared. I learned that I can do what boys can do, and boys can do what I can do. And I jumped off the bridge.
I learned to trust myself. The memory of that day comes to me often. It was four decades ago, and yet the confidence my father had in me, the trust and freedom he gave me, helped me develop trust in myself. Because I take risks, I make mistakes. And, I get hurt. Physically, emotionally and otherwise. I also experience more. Triathlon, why not (it was a mini)? Business school after college when my biggest fear was math, finance, and statistics? I fought the voice in my head that said, You’re a girl. You write poetry. You are not good at math. I did it to advance my career. I didn’t want to be an accountant, but I wanted to sit in a meeting and understand the big picture. I have no idea how I passed the accounting final; I’m pretty sure it was written in Greek. Somehow I made it to my second year, took electives that appealed to me, and graduated with an MBA. There were times during those two years when I thought I can’t do this; it’s too hard, I am not smart enough. I’m a fraud. But because I had been supported when I was younger, because I had done things I was afraid of and thrived, I trusted myself.
The bridge jump was not the only thing that made me who I am today. But, as I reflect on it, and have often over the years, the significance of my father’s support cannot be underestimated. He had left our home at that point, I rarely saw him and I’m sure I felt like it was my fault. There was so much fighting between him and my mom, so much confusion for me. But, he believed in me. He trusted and supported me. Today, as a single mom of two boys I see how critical it is to allow them to be themselves. To mess up, to try things even if I worry they might get hurt, or be cold, or something bad might happen. Usually nothing bad happens and instead, they excel. They feel empowered, like I did that day on the bridge. And I have my father to thank for letting me jump.
Photo Credit: Flickr.com/tigr