Of course, her father would have preferred to be powerful, to be wealthy, to hold some prestigious position. He didn’t want to dig sewage canals or wait on entitled aristocrats. He didn’t want to be at the bottom of Rome’s social hierarchy. Nobody would choose that life.
But in The Girl Who Would Be Free, like life itself, Epictetus’s father doesn’t have a choice. Not about their situation anyway, their status–not in a place like ancient Rome. He couldn’t choose his fate, so he chose instead to focus on how he bared it. “We didn’t choose this,” he tells his daughter, “but we can choose not to add to our troubles by complaining about them.” When she turns up her nose at their dirty job, he tells her, “How you do anything is how you do everything. And if you do it well, it can be beautiful, no matter what it is.” He refuses to be humiliated, refuses to be broken. “No one has the power to degrade us,” he says, “only themselves by being unfair and unkind.”
Whoever you are, whatever you do, you can be someone your kids respect, someone they can be proud of. How? By doing that work well. By taking it seriously. By taking yourself seriously. By taking your role as their parent, as their model, as their protector seriously. The single parent working long shifts in a restaurant is far more impressive than the half-assing stockbroker anyway, even if the market compensates these two roles differently. The person who is committed, who is doing their best, who is in command of themselves? The person who focuses on what’s in their control, that is doing what needs to be done, the right way? That is the true philosopher, not the one who has the fancy degree.
You are taking care of your family. You are doing what needs to be done. That’s enough to earn you the respect of yourself, and the people who matter. You are being what your kids deserve, you are deserving of the responsibility given to you. Be proud and wear it proudly.