a scientist’s daughter

The parent of one of my daughter’s friends was talking to me on the phone the other day and told me that my daughter “is so lucky to have a scientist for a father.” I was struck by this. She was calling to rsvp for G’s birthday party, the one with a science theme and carnival atmosphere, so I knew she was referring to this. For this event, I didn’t have to call in a clown or rent a pony, inflate a bounce house nor rent out a pool. Party favors, activities, and even the ice cream were all sponsored by “science.” So, I know that this is what she was suggesting.

I bit my tongue, knowing this mother was a lawyer, and resisted the temptation to compare the fortunes of our respective kids. It’s funny to think, though, how I can’t imagine anyone saying someone’s kids are “lucky to have an attorney for a father.” We don’t get many invitations to parties with litigation themes. Come to think of it, I don’t recall any themed invitations based around any of the career choosings of a given household. The English professor would only disappoint her children when no one showed up for the party based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The mailman hasn’t gotten much traction with the “Goin’ Postal” celebration to be held on a Sunday afternoon. My neighbor down the street, a property tax assessor… well, it just seems sad to even consider. I know these are real possibilities for failure, based on the evidence provided to me by our accountant friend. Attending a local school’s career carnival, he was seated at a table in between a cosmetologist and a martial arts instructor. As he tells it, it sounded like a very lonely day. No one took any of the free pens he had to offer, in spite of all the traffic on either side of him.

But back to my point. I’m not reflecting on the superiority of my profession. I know better. I’ve isolated myself in plenty of situations by being the guy who teaches physics; and I’ve inoculated myself by not immediately making a point of my profession at parties. People seem to be surprised, for whatever reason, to learn later than I’m a university professor in a science department. So, I don’t see any profession, especially mine, landing on a top-ten list of lucky-to-be-a-daughter vocations. I’d hate for my daughters’ fates to be determined by their father’s lack of resolve to find a real job and, instead, pretty much just stay in school forever. And, I’d hate to abandon all hope for the children of lawyers and accountants.

I’d like to think that there’s something bigger, something less arbitrary than my title, something I have an active part in, that makes me a good father and partner, teacher and collaborator. There are days, weeks, and months when what I’m doing towards my profession is quite the opposite of what could make me even an adequate parent. So, I hope for the sake of all of us, children included, that we can make ourselves good parents in spite of being a scientist or lawyer. And I especially hope that the things I do, at least some of them, are steps in the right direction.


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