When I sit down to write about my dad, it’s hard to know where to start. Â I could write about his wisdom, or his sense of humor, or his legendary patience (a quality which came in handy time and time again as he shepherded me through Â my algebra homework in junior high). Â But I think I’ll write about something else.
I’ll write about his love of well-chosen words.
For those who don’t know him, my dad is a retired electrical engineer. Â But years ago, someone described him as a Renaissance Man, and that’s really the perfect description. Â He’s a science guy with the soul of a poet, and those two Â qualities don’t often go together. Â This means that I grew up around a guy who could help me with my physics homework but who could also get excited about visiting the home of the BrontÃ« sisters in England. Â My dad has always appreciated a good turn of phrase; he is a big Lincoln fan, one who has long held the Gettysburg Address in high esteem for its pithy brilliance. Â And this love of language is evident in my dad’s own words, too.
For Christmas in 1984, at the age of eleven, I asked for (and got) The Best of James Herriot. Â It was during a brief phase when I thought I might want to be a veterinarian when I grew up, a plan which was inevitably thwarted by my profound lack of interest in anything remotely scientific (see “help me with my physics homework,” above). Â But I still have the book, and I love it for what is written on the flyleaf, in my dad’s singular engineer script:
When you are eleven, you don’t fully understand the import of those words, I think. Â But in the years to come, every time you open the book, Â you see that inscription again. Â As the years pass, this idea of aiming high and not setting one’s sights too low seeps into your bones, and it influences how you engage with Â the world around you. Â I’ve done a few crazy-esque things in my life, like leaving home to go work in a foreign country and writing books, both of which, on some level, Â still sound sort of impossible to me. Â But there is another, deeper level in me that has always thought, “What the heck? Â Go for it, Gin! Â You can do it.”
And my dad’s words over the decades, both written and spoken, are a large part of the reason why that deeper, gutsier level is even there.
Over the last few years, as my dad has savored his retirement, he’s been following a new passion: he’s been writing about science. Â His book The Elusive Notion of Motion: The Genius of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein was published two years ago. Â Just recently, he’s started a blog called Reason and Reflection. Â It sounds weird to say that I’m proud of my dad, but I am. Â I’m really proud of how Â he has blazed new paths that are so far from what he did in his professional life, of how he has named a dream and made it happen.
When his book was published, I wrote him a congratulations card. Â On it, I referenced the flyleaf of the James Herriot book and the advice that Dad gave me back in 1984.
That Â card touched Dad deeply. Â Later, he told me why. Â It’s because when he wrote that inscription in my Christmas book all those years ago, he was paraphrasing an inscription that his parents wrote to him when he was a young man. Â They are words he’s always lived by … and though I was only eleven, he passed them on to me. Â And — to paraphrase Robert Frost — those words have made all the difference.
Happy Father’s Day, Â Dad … and thank you.