Sunday, January 24, 2016
What He Still Gives to Me
Today would have been my father's 96th birthday. I've been thinking about him on and off all day. I'm so much his daughter--mostly in ways that I never wanted to be. I can be stubborn, and too hard on both myself and others. I am passionate about my convictions and will argue with almost anyone about them (though not usually if they agree with me, which my Dad was quite likely to do). I'm cranky when it's hot out, and mosquitoes love me (that makes me crankier.)
But I am also his daughter in other, better ways. I earnestly want to do what's right and have a strong sense of fairness. If I have a choice between doing the right or honest thing and personal benefit, I will (almost always) choose what's right. I believe that I should do whatever I can to fulfill a promise that I make (including deadlines). I also love being at home and puttering around--one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend afternoon is cooking at leisure.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how my Dad accepted that he was...well, just an ordinary guy. Working in academia, it's hard to keep that kind of attitude. Everyone wants to be recognized, respected...special. I mean, I have done my part and contributed to my field with original research and publications. After all, I did publish a monograph (and might publish a second), and my pedagogical publications will probably have a broader impact than any specifically scholarly pieces. But I am not a "top tier" researcher. For a long time I felt like that meant I didn't measure up. In recent years, I've been rethinking that and trying to see my accomplishments as "good enough."
My limited contributions to academia also result from the fact that I chose to focus on other parts of my life. I chose to take more weekends off. I chose to spend time with my husband and kids. I chose to have hobbies. I chose to read novels entirely unrelated to my work. I chose quiet evenings because if I don't get enough "down time," I get really overwhelmed and unhappy. Even within my work, I often chose to spend more time on my teaching than on my research.
In short, like my father, I chose direct commitments (to my students), the love and warmth of family, and ordinary moments of beauty over "getting ahead." And at 50, I find that, like my father, I'm glad that I did.
I don't know how much longer I'm going to stay in academia. I've been wallowing in indecision over whether to quit for about five years now. I hate feeling stuck like this, unable to make up my mind. But lately I've been thinking about how, even if I make this decision, I won't know what's coming next. Life doesn't work that way. And whether I stay at my job or leave it, I will have a lot of choice about how I will fill my days. I'm very fortunate to have such flexibility. In part, this is due to our good luck to be in a decent shape financially. It's also because I am a tenured full professor who has a lot of power to shape what my work looks like.
But it's also thanks to my Dad, who taught me (with his actions, not words) what it means to live a meaningfully authentic ordinary life.
I miss you, Dad.