The first man I loved was my father. I realize that’s not terribly unique—most young girls adore their daddy. But make no mistake, daddy’s little princess I was not. In fact, my father, although he didn’t know it, was a feminist way before feminism was cool. Determined that no daughter of his would be dependent on a man, there was no pampering or spoiling his little darling; he was much more interested in making sure I was tough, capable, and independent.

One of the first memories I have of my father is of him and 3-year-old me at a park—one with a gi-normous dome-shaped set of monkey bars that my older brother scaled with alacrity. Oh, how I wanted to climb those monkey bars and be like him. But I would get scared and descend, crumbling in a heap at the bottom and wailing in frustration. These un-princess-like hysterics only served to delight my brother, who dangled by his knees at the top, taunting me. Certain that my dad—my hero—would rescue me from my tormentor, I turned my tear-streaked face to him in expectation. No offer of justice was forthcoming—he did offer to give me something to cry about if I didn’t wipe the snot off my face and climb the dang monkey bars.

I called on my dad for another rescue when I was 16 and had a flat tire. My knight in shining armor arrived at the scene, only with a lawn chair instead of a white horse. From his throne he barked directions as I changed my own tire. I was most traumatized, however, by the lesson involving the mouse—the mangled one he made me remove from the trap when I was 9 years old. According to his line of thinking, if women expected things like equal pay for equal work, they shouldn’t expect a man to kill the bugs or deal with the dead mice.

Though I didn’t understand my father’s seeming lack of heroics on my behalf, I understand now that he was trying to show me that there were no limitations on what I could achieve as a woman. I owe my independence and success to him for that. But, in some ways, I think my dad was wrong. Even as I have grown in self-sufficiency, I’ve come to understand that needing a man and being a strong woman don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I may not need a man in my life, but wanting someone who encourages me to be my best self and brings out the parts of me that I love the most doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being awesome on my own. Except with one caveat: self-sufficient awesomeness notwithstanding, I still think a man should have to kill the bugs … and the mice!