New York Times bestselling author Peggy Orenstein had to withstand parental pressure to pursue a law career.
As she was about to graduate from Oberlin College in Ohio, her lawyer dad, Mel Orenstein, asked what Peggy planned to do for a living: “She said, Well, I’m going to be a writer. I said, ‘You know, Peggy, you can’t make a living being a writer. Why don’t you be a lawyer? We’ve got five or six lawyers in the family. I think you’re the strongest, the toughest and the best lawyer of the bunch! YOU SHOULD BE A LAWYER!’ She looked at me for a minute and said, You got the boys to be lawyers but NOT ME. I’m going to be a writer and I will make a living. I shook my head and wondered. Well, of course I’ve had to eat crow for a long time. There’s no end to what she’s doing.”
Crow can’t taste that bad when consumed while reading one of his daughter’s important books on female empowerment: “Cinderella Ate My Daughter,” “Waiting for Daisy,” “Schoolgirls,” “Flux” and “Girls & Sex.” At her recent Mall of America appearance, I told Peggy that I wanted to talk to her dad about raising her. “He would love that!” she said.
“It was an adventure,” he told me Saturday. “It all kind of started with when she was born. We had two boys and then all of a sudden you have a daughter. She was a little white towhead fuzz ball. I watched her hair grow as she got older and it was kind of a paradigm of her future. You know Peggy, you see that blond curly hair — it’s really, really, really curly. I should have known anything she would do would be kind of extreme.”
Mel, a 90-year-old who got a liberal studies degree in his ’80s, is proud of his feisty daughter, who is not afraid to talk about sex. Dad credits Peggy’s strong personality to the nurturing of her late mother, Beatsy, who died in 2016, and another family member … My Mel video will be posted Wednesday.
Q: What was it like, raising Peggy?
A: When she was little, with two boys in the house, Peggy had to be able to defend herself. One of them, David, the oldest brother, was an inveterate tease and he still is. She soon learned that if she was going to survive, she had better learn to defend herself. Sure enough she got the idea and then she proceeded to take care of David but good. She gave us the person who Peggy would be 20 years later. I can see how she developed this fight for women’s rights. She was an ardent feminist, always has been. I told you how she grew up with her brother the tease toughening her up all the way? She’s learned to be tough and what to do and how to achieve it. She’s a reporter, a good one. You have to be good, you have to be willing to go all the way. You can’t be delicate when you’re trying to do what she’s trying to do. It’s a process and she’s the champion.
Q: Did you see anything in her as a teenager that foreshadowed this?
A: Absolutely not. It’s that part that’s so amazing. When you look at her books and you see the progression. Her first book “Schoolgirls.” That book is still being used in the curriculum. And then the book on equal pay, “Flux.” She’s taking on these different issues. You bet I do [read each book cover to cover]. This last book, “Girls & Sex” that really threw me. [Laughs]
Q: Did you have the sex talk with her?
A: No, I didn’t.
Q: Did you tell her anything about boys?
A: I didn’t but [her brother] John, he used to help my wife diaper Peg; they both contributed in their own way to creating this, to bringing Peggy up, raising Peggy.
Q: What’s it like emotionally when Peggy’s on stage talking about her mom telling her what a great sex life you shared?
A: It’s true. [Laughter] It’s what it is. I guess I sort of took that for granted in our house. We wanted to give the kids a good background in this area so they knew what the dangers and the plusses were.
Q: My daddy’s wife died a year and half ago and lately he’s been talking about feeling the need to “socialize” more. I’ve been contemplating have a sex talk with him. What should I tell him?
A: Read Peggy’s book!
C.J. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and seen on Fox 9’s “Jason Show.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “Hello” does not count.