Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My father's visit

My father came to visit over Mother's Day weekend. We leave in a month, and it was a chance for him to see the family before we do. My father moved to this country to start a new life when he was 24. He still has strong ties to his home country, but he's lived here for almost 2/3 of his life. Yet, in spite of that experience, this move is making him feel like we are leaving him somehow. No amount of reminding him that I was about a 2 hour flight away from him in grad school, a 4 hour flight away from him now, and will only be a 6 hour flight away from him in September seems to help. We are emigrating, and something about having to pass through customs between getting off the plane and picking up one's luggage has an air of finality about it.

So my father came to visit, to see me, but especially to see his grandson. "Who knows when I'll see him next," he muses. It was sweet to see him with Epsilon. The generational divide between my father and I has always seemed to be an unbridgeable abyss. As of last weekend, it didn't seem to exists with Epsilon. The fact that his grandfather didn't really hide during our games of hide and go seek only made finding him easier and therefore more fun; and my father loves to read. Whenever I lost track of Epsilon, I'd find him curled up on my father's lap in the rocking chair with a book.

On the adult end, we all managed to keep matters civil, which was very nice. Though at one point he asked me about the classes I'm teaching. My father is a professor: he's also a medical doctor.
"Are the lectures you give chalk talks or power point?"
"They are on the board?"
"Is everything you teach on computers and in books? Or do your students have to memorize everything like I did when I was a student."

And I just don't know how to respond. Would he have been able to find the material for my undergraduate class in a textbook if he were to take its equivalent in the 1960's? Almost definitely. Do my students memorize facts in the same way that he did to get through college? I certainly hope not. And I won't even begin to explain a graduate level topics class. But it leaves me wondering. How do I bridge the gap between a theoretician who fled from medicine in part because of my parents stories of the rote memorization involved to a man who values engineers over their theoretician colleagues, and does not understand the point of my science, since it will never help solve problems that he faces and understands in life.

1 comment:

  1. As a non-American coming from a country that needs a visa to even visit the US, I have to agree with the first claim that having to pass through customs between getting off the plane and picking up one's luggage makes a whole lot of difference. I presume this is not the case with your father, though.

    After I got my PhD husband and I spent two years apart. He remained in the US university where we got the PhD and I went to another US institution during the first year of postdoc, and to a Canadian university during the second year. In both cases we were away around 4-6 hours by two planes. However, the second year felt that we were in... different countries! (It doesn't help that for us it was nontrivial to visit Canada either).

    Another point is the time difference. It may seem like nothing, but it really bothers with the phone/skype/etc. This wasn't the case for us in the situations I described, but it might be an issue with you father.

    I even feel these differences when I go to conferences. Like, I'm much more relaxed if the conference happens in the same time zone in Canada!

    Maybe I'm weird...