My father made a living as a philosophy professor. I grew up in a small college town, so it wasn’t unusual to know kids whose parents were academics, but out in the real world, I have only met one other person who grew up a bona fide philosopher’s daughter. It’s not like I’m part of popular subset of people who were raised with a bunch of easily identifiable issues (i.e. doctor’s children with their unresolved medical problems and hypochondria, or architect’s children who are raised in homes with millions of unfinished remodeling projects). My club is quite small, and I have no frame of reference for the types of issues that a person like me may have, though I do see some distinct possibilities…
Many people have made comments to me that indicate they imagine a philosopher father to have his head in the clouds, continuously in a state of deep contemplation of the meaning of life, the existence of God and so on. While we certainly had interesting dinner table conversation, this was not really the case. I have met a lot of philosophy professors through the years. Some of them did not seem to be as grounded (shall we say) as my dear father.
My father is a researcher and a collector of things. He is an observer and a recorder. He is a nature lover, and he and my mother have spent the past several years gallivanting around the country bird-watching, looking for special “target birds” and adding others to their “life list”. My father also loves vintage sports cars, fine wines, golf and other sports. He collects old books, tin toys, shell boxes, and small antique totem poles. He keeps journals on eclectic subjects stashed in his tidy drawers. His tiny, neat handwriting covers reams of note-cards and papers cataloging all manner of topics which he researches late into the night.
If I were to ask my father a question such as “What happens when we die?” He would chuckle and say in a loud voice “We go back to the earth!” and that would be that. Try as I might, I wouldn’t get much further with him, other than perhaps to get him to ask me back “What do YOU think happens when we die?” Of course herein lies the seed of my issues. How can a daddy who has studied and taught and read and bestowed upon me a small library of books on the subject of existence itself not have a better answer for me, his dear daughter, to hang her hat on in the middle of the night when the going gets tough?
My father is extremely even-tempered and sweet. I distinctly remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the few times in my life that I did something rotten enough to warrant a serious rebuke from him. He is the kind of man who makes for a wonderful father-in-law, and holds a high benchmark for the boyfriends and husbands of his two daughters. I remember looking in his high-school yearbook, and seeing that someone had called him a “cool saint”, which I think suits him just fine.
In contrast to my mother, my father is a man of few words (to be fair, this is probably true of most people when compared to my mother), but he is a delightful conversationalist when he gets going. He is fond of such motivational pronouncements as “Hit the books kid!” and “Nose to the grindstone!”, and uses them as a genial way to end a conversation abruptly and get back to whatever it was he was doing. Generally my father does not offer much advice, he is more of a listener, but when I do seek his counsel, I know it will be addressed in a thoroughly logical, rational, and helpful manner.
Through the years I have come to conclude that my father, like a mystic of any stripe, gleans his meaning for existence through experience: His devotion and love of his family, of the natural world, and of all of the wonderful things there are to learn about and study and understand. The answers he has provided me in the form of questions and open-ended ideas will no doubt be the answers that I eventually come back around to as I journey along. And in the end, he has made love a tangible thing for me to hold onto whenever another question arises to which there is no other definitive answer.