Thursday, 6 March 2014

On Retirement

I wrote this for and read this at my parents' retirement party in December.  I believe that those we love should be acknowledged in life, not just at funerals.

When I was a child, I sometimes resented my father.  He has always been deeply absorbed by his work and for much of my childhood he was magnetically drawn to his computer, always working on something that had great importance to him, but to my sister and me was just something else that kept him from playing with us.

But after adolescence, as I grew into an adult myself, and stopped needing a parent who wanted to play Barbies with me, I began to be able to see him as a separate and whole human being.  Over the years since leaving childhood, my father has become the person whose mind and intellect and ethics I admire more than anyone else in this world, and I hope that he knows this.  My father is a man who, whether you share his positions or not, has always dedicated himself to trying to view every situation as rationally and fairly as possible.  My father is a man who gives the people around him the benefit of the doubt.  He is a man who has never strayed from his mission to view science as rationally, thoughtfully and deeply as he can, even when that means questioning his own previously ascribed to paradigms.  He is a man who has never lost his childlike curiosity, his interest in learning more, soaking in more, whose book list is always miles long.  For that reason, especially, talking to my father has never been boring.

And so although he may never have known exactly how to dress a Barbie doll, his eager delight to fold me, my sister and my mother into the cerebral part of himself through conversation over the years has shown me that his family is indeed fiercely important to him.

My mother Anne will be retiring in practice as well.  As children, my mother was our primary caretaker and worked part time, always home to receive us when we arrived after school.  This is how I knew her for most of my childhood, as the person who worried and nurtured and listened and soothed me and my sister more times and in more ways than we could possibly count.  I have a chronic illness that has deeply affected my life, as many of you know, and her mothering has thus had to continue in ways that I am grateful for though wish were not needed; she should have left interrupted nights behind when her kids finished being newborns but instead she has woken to help me through sickness hundreds of times since.  She has kept me company in the emergency room, made me one meal after another when I was so sick that finding anything to tempt my appetite was almost impossible; she has advocated for my medical needs.

But a mother isn't all she is.  After my sister and I left home, she began to come into her own as a scientist in her own right.  As she and my father began to work more closely together on books and papers, their blog, and other endeavors of scientific research and thought, I saw an intellectual blossoming and growing passion in her. I have been so pleased that this post-mothering phase of her journey was able to turn into a time in which she was able to nurture other aspects of her life that are stimulating to her and that honor her deeply held set of values and ethics; one of which has also been the commitment that she shares with my father to keeping an open and thoughtfully critical eye on science.  I look forward to seeing where this new part of her path takes her.

My parents' work has never been just work. It is part of their intellectual life, their passion, and part of the spark that has kept them vibrant all these years, and you all have been a part of that.  So, let us celebrate these two people who have contributed to many lives in many ways, who are unusually and uniquely thoughtful; who have always dedicated themselves to trying to practice science as science should be practiced.  I hope that I have inherited their same endless curiosity and drive to continue reevaluating life, the universe, and everything, for I believe it keeps this journey we are on constantly fresh and constantly fascinating.  I love you both.

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