Like many men of his generation, my father was not inclined to inquire about matters of women's health.
But now and again, he would say quietly to me: You're getting checked, right? And by this I knew he was thinking of his mother, my grandmother, and how she died from breast cancer.
For a lot of reasons, I had a soft spot for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer movement, its local fundraising walk in particular. You need only one friend who is caught up in it to see how the walk gives people a sense of actually doing something about a cancer that has hit so many sisters, mothers and friends.
So hundreds and hundreds of women (and men) strap on their sneakers for a weekend of blisters and sisterhood for the cause, walking 60 miles in three days to raise big money for awareness, prevention, research and ultimately, a cure. Komen says it has invested $1.9 billion in the cause so far.
Me, I'm not much of a joiner. One year, I went out to cheer foot-weary walkers in pink passing through Tampa on the final leg. The next, I joined a prewalk-walk with a couple of enthusiastic participants I know. Finally, I found myself setting up tables before dawn for a garage sale to help some women I like meet their fundraising goals, and writing checks matched by my employer.
Next year, I thought, I'm walking.
But nothing in this world is safe from politics — not even a fight to cure cancer.
Komen this week ended hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to Planned Parenthood, mainly for breast cancer exams — you know, the kind that save lives.
Heavens no, the charity insisted, it's not political. Komen said it's because Planned Parenthood is the subject of an investigation into whether public money was used for abortions, an inquiry by a conservative Republican congressman that was pushed by abortion foes.
Nope, no politics there.
Apparently, it does not matter that Planned Parenthood is about overall sexual and reproductive health, with lots of services, including birth control and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Komen either caved to antiabortion pressure or showed its true colors rather than keeping strictly to the business of raising money for an important cause. The reason doesn't matter. Both are equally disappointing.
Sometimes I worry that many young women coming up in the world take for granted the fight for the right to decide, that to them it must seem as old as 8-tracks or the Civil War. This is how rights erode, how gardens die. Even now, our Legislature is fielding the latest attempts to make a safe, legal abortion harder to get, from a waiting period to hurdles for doctors. And so it goes.
The Komen walk will lose some supporters like me, unwilling to strap on our battered New Balances in the face of this.
I have no illusions that my personal boycotts — like purchasing my potting soil elsewhere after Lowe's caved to bigotry over a TV show about Muslims — will cause vast organizations to crumble. But it starts somewhere, like with the name you scrawl on the pay-to line on your check.
What's saddest is the politics of it all, smack in the middle of a cause that was supposed to be about saving sisters, mothers, friends, and nothing else.