Mothers, Moms, Mas, Mommies and Mother Figures

All of us have or had one. They’ve shaped who we are from both a nature and nurture perspective. Our relationships with our mothers can often be complicated and intense. After all, their words can ricochet around in our heads like no others. My mother happens to be an independent, outspoken, ambitious woman who has an abundance of both gumption and grit. And as a teenager I wanted to be nothing like her.


Caroline Dunaway, mother of TomboyX Co-Founder and CEO, Fran Dunaway.


She grew up in a tiny town in Mississippi called Shady Grove. In her own words she “was an only child until she was 10 years old” and then in rapid succession, 4 siblings arrived. I’m entertained with the indignation in her voice – even as an 80-year-old who has outlived more than half of them. I would call the means of my grandparents humble and their education limited. I can remember my Grandfather, with his thick head of white hair, the sweet scent of menthol cigarettes and his rounded belly protruding from his zippered onesie. He’d be seated at the kitchen table within arms reach of the coffee pot but would command one of his daughters to get up and refill his cup. “Yes Daddy,” they’d respond.

The world of opportunity for girls was limited to their future role as wife and mother. If you really thought post secondary education was worth it then home economics, teaching or nursing were on the outer reaches of your ambitious notions. Boys on the other hand were proffered a birthright special status with lauded expectations of grandeur - as athletes, 4 star Generals, or movie stars.

My mother was the first in her extended family to attend college, dutifully studying home economics at an affordable nearby junior college. She got a job to pay for school and was courted anonymously by “The Fantom” who used to leave love notes on her typewriter. Appalled at his spelling, my mother was nonetheless charmed by his corny humor. They eloped a few months before my father was drafted into the US Army. In a few short years they had their first child, me, and my mother found herself on a ship headed for Germany to be reunited with my dad. She’d never been more than a few hundred miles from home.



There was no housing available on base so we settled into a neighborhood in Nuremberg, across the street from a prison where Nazi prisoners paced the grounds. My mother was frustrated by her inability to understand what everyone was talking about so she immediately enrolled in German language classes. She’s fluent to this day. We spent 3 years in Germany and then headed stateside with me and my new brother in tow. We moved 13 times before I graduated from High School, and she found the strength to see my dad off to and from Viet Nam – twice. A single mom for a year at a time, constantly fretful of that reality becoming a constant. Thankfully, they survived.

With mad shorthand skills (it’s a lost art but check it out here), my mom landed a job as a secretary for a stock brokerage firm in Kansas City, Missouri, while my dad trained to became an officer. My mom’s curiosity got the best of her and she absorbed information like a sponge. One day she mustered up the gumption to approach her boss and explain to him that she wanted to become a stock broker. In essence, he patted her on the head and told her how cute that was, but no, not going to happen. Undeterred my mother made it a weekly plea, upping the intensity with each new request. He finally relented but warned her that the tests were complicated and required critical thinking – she had one shot and one shot only. Needless to say, she did not fail. 



She not only became one of the first female stock brokers in the early 1970’s but she became one of the top performers in her firm, winning national titles year after year. At one event in Hawaii she accepted her award wearing a men’s tuxedo she had rented just for the occasion. My dad proudly encouraged and supported her every step of the way. He became a helicopter pilot, so she learned to pilot small planes as well. And a small town girl from Mississippi found herself soaring high, despite the odds against her.

In 1995 they retired into their dream home on the back bay of Biloxi, Mississippi. They remodeled it for over a year to get it into pristine condition for my dad’s Viet Nam reunion, which they hosted in May 2005. In August, Hurricane Katrina washed away 50 years of memories and keepsakes. They watched from across the street as everything they had worked for vanished into the murky, furious waters they loved so well. The next day, they got busy rebuilding their lives – a bit worn around the edges, but determined and united. They had once again survived.



So when I came to them with this crazy idea to start a clothing line for tomboys, my parents didn’t bat an eye. In fact, they were our first investors, and have supported us every step of the way. They’ve lived through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship right along with Naomi and me. They’ve ironed shirts, built shelves and carried boxes to the post office. And my mom wears her TomboyX branded gear loudly and proudly. I doubt she would have imagined herself a boxer brief wearing 80-year-old, but that’s who she’s become. Her favorite style? The Feeling Frisky, of course!

People ask me where we got the courage to start a new clothing line for tomboys, despite the odds against us? I know exactly where. In fact, a large part of who I am today is because I was raised by a woman who is independent, outspoken, ambitious and has an abundance of both gumption and grit. I like to sum it up as tomboy spirit.