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Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Look, Daddy, I drew the best diagram of a combustion engine in the whole 4th grade!" --How my father influenced my science career

I know there are a few people out there who check in on my blog from time to time and perhaps you have notice a lack of blogging, book reviewing and other manner of video production for several weeks.  Thanks for missing me and for even letting me know that you missed me. That is really sweet.

I offer my sincerest apologies to those of you who have sent me messages over the summer and I didn't reply.  I also apologize to my awesome authors who are patiently awaiting a review.  As you will soon see and can imagine, I didn't feel much like reading lately and I didn't want the stress of this time to color the way I viewed the books.

My father would have been 67 on September 7 this year, but he didn't quite make it. Years and years of dennybw.jpgsmoking cigarettes finally took its toll.  This is a fact and not a platform to judge or condemn those who currently smoke cigarettes.  As a child, I watched my dad try to quit many times, and I know it is a powerful addiction, a habit that is extraordinarily difficult to break. 

My siblings and I recall the educational pushes the schools made to inform us of the dangers of smoking and we would come home from school and tell Dad he would die one day from his smoking habit. How sad for us that that this forecast would come true. Lung cancer claimed my grandmother just four years ago and now COPD has claimed my father.

For those who don't know, COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Rather than describing it in detail, I will just forward you to the NIH description meant for the general public.  I did learn that death usually follows about five years after diagnosis, which essentially happened (way to follow directions, Dad!).  The draw of cigarettes was so powerful that my father didn't quit until he was forced to go on oxygen to help him breathe.

This summer, my mother, brother and I paid more frequent visits to the ER with dad. The last visit, though, resulted in an intubation and placement on a ventilator with a stay in the ICU, where dad surprisingly rallied himself, recovering enough to put his affairs in order, after which he went downhill quite quickly ending up in hospice in less than a week and passing away just a few short days later.

I miss my dad and have been surprised at the feeling of incredible grief that will take over me from time to time, feeling as if I am swallowed up in quicksand and needing to pull myself out from it in order to continue on with the day. But I also know there are a heck of a lot of us who go through this rite of passage in life and that offers me some comfort. And, I'm sure he is perfectly content to be in the company of Farrah Fawcett and Walter Cronkite!

 As I wondered how best to honor him, I came up with the idea to discuss his influence on the most essential part of my life, which is, of course, my relationship with science.

Dennis Duddleston grew up in poverty in Chicago. Times were so hard he didn't finish high school in order to start working. He joined the Air Force and eventually went back for his GED.  And since he had a natural talent with all things mechanical, in the wisdom of the Air Force, he was placed in hospital 1stfamily.jpgadministration. Wink He spent some time in Vietnam, doing paperwork and driving ambulances. It was because of the Air Force that we ended up in Guam. He served more than 25 years and was given a proper military burial at a national cemetery. Naturally, I could hardly contain my tears as they played "Taps" for him and handed my mother the flag that was covering his casket.It was a beautiful and fitting ceremony.

My father, despite being what one would rightly call 'blue collar', always struck me as extremely intelligent. He wasn't especially philosophical, but he certainly had a lot of common sense and a good working knowledge of the world. He had very little patience for stupidity or lack of common sense. When something had to be done it was always to be done RIGHT. You could always count on my father for that, and this was something I truly admired. This held true not only for his work, but for the various hobbies he pursued, including learning guitar, photography and even car body work and painting. It is not such a stretch to imagine that his children had to live up to the same standards as well.  Dad wanted us to have that same excellent sense of pride in our work that he displayed. It was imperative that we carry out any task without complaint or error and thus could be counted on no matter what was asked of us. I feel the benefits of this attitude ingrained in me everyday.

My father also believed that we should figure things out ourselves, to struggle and wrestle with problems and situations for a good long while before asking for help. We also were required to learn all manner of crafts, techniques and skills, all of which have been extraordinarily useful for the inevitable mechanical and electrical malfunctions that occur in a laboratory setting. I go through my day knowing that should anything come up, I have the practical skills and problem solving abilities to figure them out.  Luckily I also learned to set aside some of that pride to know I can ask more knowledgeable folks for assistance in the interest of saving time!

I wish I could say that this confidence and knowledge was achieved through smiles and pats on our backs, but that was not the case. I know Dad wanted to turn out human beings who could take what the world had to dish out. Sometimes I like to use the imaginary scenario that when it came time to learn to swim, he would have thrown us in the water and said "Swim!" and we would have to just do it or drown.  Thankfully, it never came to that extreme, but believe me, some days it felt like it could happen!

So if we put my dad on the scale of compassionate dads, ranging from the uber-Marine dad "The Great Santini" to Robert Young's Character on "Father Knows Best", I am going to rank him closer to the hardened Marine. I expect I will get no arguments from my siblings. :-) 

200px-Great_santini.jpg    __________x__________________                 FatherKnowsBest_S1.jpg

In addition to the problem solving skills I learned by solving problems on my own, a wide repertoire of practical skills and a terrific work ethic, I was also given the valuable gift of time and space to explore the natural world on my own. Time in the boonies, at the tide pools and beaches, time just spent outside looking at the clouds. Even though Dad rarely came alongside me to do any of these things, he knew it was important to me. He and Mom scraped money together to buy me the things I would request for birthdays or Christmas: a telescope, a globe, a calculator (and the Easy Bake Oven--very important!). One of the most memorable moments came in third grade when I saw a book called "Astronomy Made Simple" and I BEGGED for it in the bookstore even though it was well beyond my capabilities. He asked "Will you understand it?" Of course I said "Oh yes, Daddy! I promise!" and in a very rare moment, he parted with some of our scarce money to purchase this book for an enthusiastic budding scientist. Even then I understood the sacrifice this was for him.

I also can thank Dad for turning me into a nerd in other ways. There were copies of "Popular Mechanics" magazines and "Chilton's Auto Repair" guides left around the house, just waiting to be picked up by a curious youngster. We would all watch "M*A*S*H" or the original "Star Trek" series on TV as a family, with several of us sitting on the floor building or painting plastic models of things like tanks and warplanes and the occasional car during the shows (although I moved onto rocket ships and the Space Shuttle eventually).  If I were lucky, I would be allowed to stay up late and watch "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and "Benny Hill" with him on PBS. Those were the quiet times I enjoyed with him, even if I was under no circumstances allowed to share his precious kippers and crackers, which were much more appealing to the pets than it was to me.

Dad never expressed if he were proud of what I have done with my life, with my career, because he just never was that way, but I do know he cared, and he cared enough to give me exactly what was needed to become the scientist I am. Thanks, Dad, I love you and I will always cherish what you did for me.

Kindly, Joanne 

Sat, August 29, 2009 | link 

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