Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How Not To Be A Dick

The wonders of the modern world – telephony. An instance where modern finance actually helped us – ATT was broken up, and no more do I have to listen to the modern equivalent of my father trying to get off the phone as I called home from my freshman year at Harvard, Boston to Philadelphia, “Well, it’s long distance….” My Mom, on the other line, remonstrating, “Henry, he needs to talk to you!” “Well, everyone knows that math and science are harder,” said my Dad, responding to my expressed concerns with my studies. And I guess that was all I had to hear, even if it wasn’t particularly true. What was harder wasn’t math and science, it was Harvard. But encouragement was what I needed, and even just a word or two was fine, and still remembered 52 years later. So I called my son Allie where he lives in Panama yesterday to chat, and with modern telephony and computers, it was a free call. He is pursuing ye old Ph.D. in environmental science, commuting from Panama to Bolivia, his field work site, and to Gainesville, his home university. Jet planes with competitive fares, free telephony, and calling him from my car. I’m used to it all, but still I can appreciate it. I called Allie to chat and asked how he was doing and he said the dissertation was going fine, making good progress. So I remembered something else about my Dad. It was the summer of 1970, and my ex-wife and I and Allie and Nicky were spending a few weeks in my parental home in Society Hill in Philadelphia, in between leaving my post with the Public Health Service in Washington, D.C., and driving out to Berkeley for graduate school. Somehow I just kind of assumed that it would be OK for this family of four to stay with them. A nice summer time, and while they enjoyed us, I’m sure they had other ideas besides our squeezing into their house for the duration. I was pretty unconscious, gotta say. Anyway, there we were. My Dad said I should write a book about my fascinating experience the previous two years in the Public Health Service, heading the Migrant Health Program. He was right, I should and I eventually did. But at this point there was only the idea. I guess I was writing an outline. I was downstairs. But actually I wasn’t writing the outline at that point, I was reading “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. Sitting in that white scoop chair that swiveled around, reading about the club house attendant for the Yankees who told Bouton he had stopped ordering orange juice for the team because it disappeared too fast, as Bouton wondered at the logic of the stupid of the world. So, down comes my father to look at me, and he says, “You’re not writing your book? You’re reading Ball Four?” Then paused, looked at me, and said gently, “You’re really disgusting.” That’s what I told Allie that I was reminded of, and Allie said, “He really said that?? ‘Disgusting?’ Oh, man!” “Yes,” I said, “but it wasn’t so bad. My Dad said it with love. He always said it with love. My mother, well, maybe another story.” So Allie said, “So that reminded you? And you’re wondering how I’m doing on my dissertation?” “No,” I said. “I’m wondering if I’m being a dick.” He laughed, and I laughed. And actually, I don’t think I was being a dick. Especially since I remembered what it was like to be a dick, when I was on the other side of it. Budd Shenkin

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