A Father’s Day thought…

My father is gone. He died in 1993; I vividly remember how I felt when I got that phone call, the desperate search through my memory of every last moment I’d spent with him, the anguish over the missing details and lost days and years, the despair that there would be no more memories, ever. It’s gotten worse over the years, too — it becomes harder and harder to recall the faces and voices of the dead as they recede into the past, no matter how important they were to us once, and while we might regularly resurrect fond remembrances, they aren’t so pressing anymore, nor are they as vital as they once were, and the pain of loss slowly fades. I loved that man very much and respected him as a guide, a father in the best sense of the word, yet there he goes, all his personality and works and words and concerns, dissipating into the background hiss of the universe, someday to be lost to all.

His grandchildren scarcely knew him, if they met him at all. To his great-grandchildren he’ll only be a name, at best, and to his subsequent descendants, even less, perhaps a scrap of a tattered record in some archive, or a tombstone, or a few bits in an online database. There is no immortality for us, not even in the history books or in some great saga … which only serve to promote a myth or echo of the man, anyway.

And so it will be for us, too. You and I will be gone some day, and be realistic — a few generations beyond that, and we will be unknown, forgotten, unimportant to anyone.

Perhaps you think this is too bleak a view, and that this is a vision of the future that we have to turn away from or lose all hope. It’s truth, though. Think back through your past: most but not all will remember their fathers well. Many will have known their grandfathers, but only in their aging years. Some will have met their great-grandfathers, but remember only an old, old man. Beyond that, you might have a few stories, a sepia-colored photo, an entry in a genealogy record, and the otherwise relatively recent will be nothing but a name and a few dates, while go back a few centuries and not even that will be there anymore. Each of those men were for a time among the most important people in their children’s lives, and now, nothing but dust. Do you think you will be any different?

But wait. I am not some glum nihilist who counsels everyone on the futility of their existence. There is more to this story than generations of wasted effort — to think that misses the whole point.

Look at the biology. Parenthood has a personal cost — we know this objectively. Both males and females are sinking a great deal of effort into reproduction, and we know experimentally that parental investment in breeding and care for offspring reduces longevity — and it’s true for fathers as well as mothers. Those of us with caring fathers know well the time and work involved, and the heartache we caused, and the hopes and worries that afflicted our parents.

Richard Dawkins famously said we come from a long line of survivors, that we are all descended from historical champions. This is true, but it leaves off another important factor: they were all survivors who made a sacrifice in order to leave progeny. Almost all of this chain of fathers are nameless and faceless, but all have in common the fact that at some time in their life they spent health and time to create new life (and before you belittle paternal investment as often little more than a spasm and spurt, think about the genuine cost of sexual reproduction; it’s such a silly activity, with only a small and transient reward, and yet it’s so ingrained in our being that we take for granted that males will sink much of their life into the business of courtship. Among humans, of course, responsible parenting is also a huge, prolonged expense.) Our parents were people who held our hand through childhood, who gave us the car keys when we were adolescents, who got us through high school and college, who paid for our weddings and gave us assistance through the rough spots, and all of that was to send us off into the world on our own, and they took pride in our independence. What a strange idea, that a life could find meaning in selflessly helping a generation that will leave one behind.

That is what fatherhood is really about: not immortality, not long-term reward, but self-sacrifice to launch a new generation into the world with a little momentum and a little potential … potential to stand autonomously and be something new; not to serve the past but to become the future. We regretfully watch our fathers fall away behind us, knowing that we will be next, and at the same time we prepare our own children to carry on and be themselves, just as we were given this chance at life.

I miss my dad, but I also know how to honor him. By being myself, as he brought me up to be, and by raising my children to be themselves, as he did for me.


  1. Jody says

    Sorry to break the mood, but I just have to say “Holy crap, that was good”.

  2. says

    A great piece PZ. I have many regrets regarding my father (being a son of an alcoholic has its costs), but I cherish the good memories, and your piece brought them back. Thanks.

  3. Sven DiMilo says

    There are times when you rock hard, man, and this is one of them. All of it–so true.
    Fatherhood is the most important part of my life.

  4. says

    I’m celebrating my first father’s day, and yet another one far from home. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to my many thoughts and emotions. Simply stunning. Thank you, PZ.

  5. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    I also take comfort from the concept of “block time” or “timescape”. We have no reason to think that our ‘present’ is in any way privileged over those experienced by your father or grandfather or distant ancestors. Perhaps all times co-exist in a manner roughly analogous to a landscape. We are in some sense simply travelling through part of it. If I travel from Fargo to Minneapolis, Fargo doesn’t cease to exist when it disappears below the horizon. Even if I were never to see it again, it would still be there. If I fly back to England at some time in the future, the plane will not disappear into oblivion and I will find the country right where I left it, more or less.

    Suppose the same is true of time. If we had an FTL starship and pointed it at a point in space where the Earth was 100 years ago and warped over there we should find the planet there as it was, including all the people that, from our point of view, have passed away. That means that all those people that we have left behind are still out there somewhere, even if it is impossible for us to get back to them at the moment. It’s not life after death as we know it, Jim, but it’s close.

  6. Magpie says

    I choose to believe that time doesn’t care about our puny perspectives. The past is there – inaccessible to our present selves, but existent. The universe does not retroactively wipe out a life lived. A person’s life, all of it, even the unobserved, unremarkable bits, are preserved in time. They happened, and nothing takes that away.

    Birth and death are just boundaries. In the middle it’s up to you to make awesome moments, because they will be preserved in their time and place, inviolable.

  7. Todd says

    Well said. This reminded me of a quote from Hamlet (Act 5. Scene I):

    No, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with
    modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it: as
    thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried,
    Alexander returneth into dust; the dust is earth; of
    earth we make loam; and why of that loam, whereto he
    was converted, might they not stop a beer-barrel?
    Imperious Caesar, dead and turn’d to clay,
    Might stop a hole to keep the wind away:
    O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
    Should patch a wall to expel the winter flaw!

  8. says

    I phoned my father this morning and wished him a happy Father’s Day. (Actually, Mom answered the phone, so I wished her a happy Father’s Day first.) My father is a very lucky man. He has children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to dote on. His health is excellent and his lifestyle is comfortable. He complains constantly, but he enjoys that. He’s never so happy as when he has a grievance to pick on. Even his wayward son (that’s me) is willing to listen patiently every so often while he rants on. Today it was about losing weight. He needs to drop a few pounds, so he plans to eat a bit less. No pills or shortcuts. Sounds sensible.

    We had an entire phone conversation without arguing even once. That’s what happens if you avoid politics and religion and concentrate on weight loss. I should eat a bit less, too. Wisdom from my Dad.

    It’s a good Father’s Day.

  9. speedwell says

    Dr. Myers, I lost my dad in February. He had been an obstinate, vain, angry, didactic, and unkind person in general, but he was always there for his children and we never went without when we truly needed something. During his funeral, his three children realized we all took something positive from his personality flaws that has served us well in our own lives. We are no-nonsense, practical individuals who don’t let ourselves we walked over. But I’m the most popular software trainer in the multinational company I work for, my next younger brother and his wife are raising the two happiest, best-balanced boys I know, and my youngest brother… well, we didn’t all turn out successes, but at least he’s hanging in there and stubbornly staying afloat.

    Don’t assume you’re ruining your children when you do something “wrong.” We three have our psychological blemishes and we wish Dad had been more like other people’s dads. But we loved him, and we miss him this Father’s Day.

  10. Karen says

    I never thought you’d put me in tears, PZ, but this post touched me deeply. My dad died two years less eight days ago, and I too remember the phone call. For me, it came at dawn, after I’d gone home to get a few hours of sleep; the doctor said to come RIGHT AWAY. Dad died while I was trying to find a parking space in the hospital’s overcrowded lot. That I knew the end was near didn’t help.

    My dad won’t be remembered much beyond my generation (no grandchildren), but one of the things that made him such a great dad was his habit of doing practical, thoughtful things to make everyone’s life better. He cared about his family, his neighbors, his employees, and his friends and showed it in acts of practical kindness. He didn’t pray for people, he did for people, in a humble and casual way that didn’t obligate gratitude. He managed to leave that portion of the world within his sphere of influence a better place than when he found it. That seems a far more useful contribution than the raising of one childless daughter, and he was certainly an inspiration to far more people than just me.

  11. Hank Fox says

    Well said, and all of you who had loving Dads, count yourself fortunate. Not everyone is so lucky.

  12. Blind Squirrel FCD says

    Yah, a great post. A little difficult for some of us to read though (I project). Not all of us have a happy memory of our parents and the qualities of a good father you describe are as alien to us as the behavior of some obscure squid. Don’t let me harsh your mellow, use this as another reason to apprecieate your good fortune in picking your parents well.

  13. says

    Marvellous essay. I’ve had similar feelings about the memory of my mother, who died many years ago when I was away at college. After a while, you just can’t remember that person any more. That seems like the cruelest thing to me.

    I agree with speedwell @16. Our parents’ faults can often make us stronger. I suspect if that weren’t true, we probably wouldn’t have survived as a species. My parents did the best they could, as do most parents, I suspect. You really can’t ask any more of them than that.

  14. Louise Van Court says

    Hats off to all the self-sacrificing dads out there, nonbelievers and believers alike, may your children notice and appreciate what you have given up for them, and use their talents and abilities for the good of all and so on and so on.

  15. Benny the Icepick says

    PZ, thanks for that lovely introspective. I love my father and cherish his “sacrifice” to me deeply.

    Of course, I choose not to go through the same sacrifice myself. Partly because I’m selfish and love my freedom, and money, and time, and all the other resources that vaporize upon parenthood. Oh, and those resources are precious. By sacrificing my opportunity to diversify the gene pool, I’m securing those resources for the future generations of others. When I think of all that a human consumes in the course of a lifetime, I think it’s the best gift I can give to the species: a healthy planet on which to exist.

  16. mayhempix says

    Great post PZ.

    My father died in 2003 and it seems both like yesterday and eons ago. After a heart transplant with many problems and then, 8 years later kidney failure, he decided to stop taking his medications and went into a hospice program. I spent the last 2 weeks of his life watching him fade and die.

    But I am so grateful that the transplant afforded him and my son the opportunity to get to know and love each other… he had the transplant 6 months after my son was born.

    You will be glad to know that when the hospice sent a non-denominational pastor to pay him a visit and asked him if he wanted pray with him my father replied, “I never believed that crap my whole life and I sure as hell am not going become a hypocrite now.”

    The look on the pastor’s face was priceless.

    Happy Father’s Day to you.

  17. adam says

    Having just spent all week by my Dying Fathers Bedside this piece truly moved me
    Alzheimer has left him a shell of a man I am left with just memory’s now but when I look at my son I will think of him and how much pride he had in is kids and grand kids
    One note of cheer today was telling the priest to keep moving when offered sit with us
    How my dad would have loved that!!!!

  18. MAJeff, OM says

    I love my father and dread life without him; I barely remember the grandfather who died a mere 5 years ago (in part because my life was to remain a secret–per request of the family). There are times when I almost wish I’d entered the breeding pool. Reading this post was one of them.

  19. dogheaven says

    I have been staying away from tne blogs and TV today because it is fathers day. I just buried both my mother and dad last weekend and have been trying to not think about it. They died within 2 days of each other from separate causes last November. We had to wait for the spring for the burial in their chosen place.

    I am the only atheist in my family, so they are a tad confused as to how to try to comfort me (and vice versa.) but we were all loving and united.

    PZ, your post made me feel better.

    I have selected not to produce progeny. But I am learning how to be myself and be so grateful in the fact that my parents gave and instilled some qualities in me that I think have made my life as good as it could be so far.

    Though my dad and mom are going into the dust, and I know that my memories will fade, there is one thing that will never go away in our family as long as there is any, the command to ANTICIPATE!

    My miss my parents terribly.

  20. says

    Thanks for sharing, Dogheaven. Just like PZ’s tribute to his father, it’s a reminder to those of us who still have our parents to be grateful for them.

  21. Muffin says

    Very interesting post, yes – although it also does leave me feeling somewhat sad, since I’ll never have children myself. Oh well, you just gotta deal, I guess.

  22. says

    This is, by my count, the second beautiful post you have written about your father. You were lucky to have him; he was lucky to have you.

  23. says

    BTW, CS Lewis’s stock isn’t very high around here, but he could write well, and wrote some things in A Grief Observed (his memoir of the loss of his wife) that I think PZ, to judge by his first two paragraphs above, would recognise and understand.

  24. jwc says

    I suddenly lost my father to a heart attack shortly after I turned 17. I’ve spent the last seven years trying to figure the whole thing out, to understand my father’s role in shaping the person I am today both by his presence and his absence. Thank you for your thoughts on this, PZ.

  25. Max says

    “Our parents were people who held our hand through childhood, who gave us the car keys when we were adolescents, who got us through high school and college, who paid for our weddings and gave us assistance through the rough spots, and all of that was to send us off into the world on our own, and they took pride in our independence.”

    Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, and nope.

    But that’s what my children are getting. We are human, and can therefore participate in our own evolutionary process.

  26. Joe Bob says

    Very interesting post, yes – although it also does leave me feeling somewhat sad, since I’ll never have children myself.

    I have enjoyed not reproducing. I am one of six children, and I distinctly remember my mother exclaiming on more than one occasion, “You’ll see what it’s like when YOU have kids!”. I cleverly managed to not have any.

  27. Sili says

    You make me feel like a right cad … but I’m still too stubborn to forgive my father – despite the insistences of my therapist.

    But I recognise that I’m wrong in this. And I realise that the stubbornness is indeed a trait I have from his side of the family.

    My mother died early last year, and only recently has the loss become bearable. But I do despair at my poor recollection of her. I never did pay as much attention to the world as I should.

    I can only believe that your father would have been proud of you had he still been here. And I can say for certain that while you may be forgotten in a hundred years, your influence goes beyond the fine job you’ve done of raising your children. As a teacher you will have touched hundreds of lives and you will live in the memory of those students too. As a blogger you’ve reached countless thousands and I think you’ll find that many if not most of us would be proud to call you a friend, a teacher and even a ‘father’.

    Thank you.

  28. Julian says

    Damn! Now that’s an essay. 80% of the English majors I have known can’t write that well.

  29. Dahan says

    Thanks PZ.

    Two months ago I didn’t expect my Dad to still be around for this Father’s Day. He is. In fact, he’s been beating the odds for over 30 years. At that time, he sustained a massive heart attack. The doctors gave him less than 5 years to live. He’s worked at trying to take care of himself, and done his usual church thing (which, unfortunately he thinks makes a difference), but I know I have modern medicine, science, and luck to thank for me being able to call him today.

    Luck is just that. Science has given me the gift of not having to have only known him when I was a young boy.

    Happy Father’s Day all!

  30. LeeLeeOne says

    “I miss my dad, but I also know how to honor him. By being myself, as he brought me up to be, and by raising my children to be themselves, as he did for me.”

    Prof. Myers, Thank you.


    thank you

  31. Anonymous says


    Voices, loved and idealized,
    of those who have died, or of those
    lost for us like the dead.

    Sometimes they speak to us in dreams;
    sometimes deep in thought the mind hears them.

    And with their sound for a moment return
    sounds from our life’s first poetry–
    like music at night, distant, fading away.

    C.P. Cavafy

  32. Eli says

    That’s beautiful, Dr. Myers. A fitting Father’s Day post if there ever was one.

  33. says

    This is my first comment here and it is probably a measure of the Great Evil in my heart that will send me directly to front of the queue for Hell that I have to confess that I really wanted to leave a one line reply that said simply:

    ‘It’s OK, I’m praying to Jesus for you and your father…’

    But you see I am too much of a wimp to carry it off. A very touching post PZ, and a reminder that in truly comprehending our mortality we find a strength of purpose to make our lives and the lives of our loved ones meaningful and rich.

    I also discovered that you have Father’s Day at a different time of year to us (in Australia, it’s in September).

  34. Ethan says

    A great post PZ. I lost my father in 1973 to a misstep near a cliff face in Antarctica. He never knew his grandchildren.

    I still miss him.

  35. Rob says

    My family was not one to make much of affections and words of love. We all loved each other, and both my parents, while they had their faults, were good parents. We never said it, though.

    Just before my father died in 1998, I told him, as sort of parting words, that he had been a good father to me. He responded by telling me that I always worried him because I spent money too easily. Whatever.

    He was a good father though. He spent an enormous amount of time with me when I was a kid, and it paid off.

  36. Crudely Wrott says

    I am fortunate to have two fathers, one natural, the other by marriage. My natural father, Poor Ol’ Pap aka The Old Master, died in 1982 following bypass surgery. He never awoke from the operation. My step-father and I have just now been talking about the times gone by, full of the stuff of learning and growing. I am as old now as he was when I left home.

    How fortunate I am to have twice the opportunity to profit from the experience and counsel of two men who cared deeply for me as a child. I carry their examples and exhortations with me to this day. Yet my sorrow is doubled knowing that I will have to bid my fathers goodbye twice. Big Bad Black Bearded Dad aka The Spider is 84. He sounds great, has a new love in his life and is surrounded by his children and grandchildren. But all good lives come to an end. I guess I could say I have some practice in saying goodbye to fathers and this second goodbye should be easier, cold comfort that it is. And false comfort; it will be at least as hard.

    My fathers taught me many things with one simple ideal in mind; that I would not have to go through the struggles they had to conquer in their lives. Rather, armed with their insight and experience I would be able to bypass some of their trials and so, being better off then they were, pass this enhanced knowledge to my children. Exhorting them to learn well and pass on even more useful lessons to their children. It is, I think, how we enjoy a small bit of progress in each generation.

    I think also that this is a process that has been going on for a very long time. It is my hope that it will endure even longer. Even though every day is father’s day, for a father thinks of his children daily and wishes he had covered more ground, this is the day when we make a point of giving thanks and credit to the main man (or men) in our lives. Therefore I say to all men with children, “Happy Father’s Day.”

    And to all children I say, “Remember your daddy, when no one was wiser. Your mom used to say that you would go farther than he ever could. With time on your side.”*

    You, PZ, appear to me as a pretty good old man. I have it on good authority that your children think so and so I echo their sentiments on this day. Be proud, my friend. I know I am proud of my children, and I don’t even have a blog!

    By virtue of these sentiments, love is the means by which we prosper and are fulfilled despite the ruts in the road or the way the road divides.

    Remember, and tell the old stories; they are ever new to the young.

    *Alan Parsons Project, late 70s. I forget the album title.

  37. David Beadle says

    As I sit here after my psychology exam, in the biology department at the University of Auckland, my eyes begin to water. Not in sadness, but overwhelming joy. I’m part of something great.

  38. says

    Thanks for this, PZ. My father died 8 years ago (I was 25) and he and I were not very close. We didn’t get along (possibly because we were too much alike) but I gradually came to feel much the way you described in this post. It took me way too long to appreciate the sacrifices parents make. Even when I can’t always understand the personal choices, the big picture biologically really matters, too.

  39. Wowbagger says

    Bravo, PZ. Your post, and many of the responses here, are what those ignorant people who claim atheists are amoral monsters should read and try to understand before making obnoxious and unfounded statements.

    In Australia Father’s Day is in September – I was a bit confused until I realised that it’s not universal.

    I don’t have a relationship with my father; he isn’t a good person and certainly wasn’t a good husband or father. So I envy those who’ve had the benefit of a ‘good dad’ and the positive experiences that come from it.

  40. foxfire says

    PZ, thank you. My husband and I took my Dad and Mom out to brunch today – Mom is fading mentally and my 88 year-old diabetic father loves her so much he wills himself to continue living because he won’t leave her alone (I’d be there for her, but that would not be the same). He is such a great guy. I love him very much.

    @ Karen #17:

    He managed to leave that portion of the world within his sphere of influence a better place than when he found it. That seems a far more useful contribution than the raising of one childless daughter, and he was certainly an inspiration to far more people than just me.

    Karen, I too am a childless daughter, the only child left (my beloved younger brother died before his second year a very long time ago). Being childless is…..different, yet that does not mean your life is without meaning or contribution.

  41. SteveM says

    I was a little freaked at how closely the timing of your father’s passing paralleled my own. My father died in ’92 and my children too were young enough (7 and 4) to have barely known him. Your essay also reminds me of scene in a movie that has stuck with me since I saw it as a kid in terms of defining part of the role of the father. It is the scene in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner between Sidney Poitier’s character and his father. His father tries to guilt Poitier with all the sacrifices he made to put him through college and all. Poitier’s response is that children never owe their parents anything, that parents choose, nay have a duty, to sacrifice for their children, just as he will to his own children in turn. There was just something about the passion with which Poitier delivered that speech that has stayed with me ever since.

  42. Allytude says

    I lost my father 11 years ago. He was cantakerous, taciturn, moody and at the same time a funny weird person. A lot of what i got from him. I think I can miss him now. He was that is important.

  43. Alex says

    Yay for suffering to make babies so that they too can suffer to make babies!

    You know, when I think about it I really hate my parents for having me.

  44. MAJeff, OM says

    You know, when I think about it I really hate my parents for having me.

    You could easily undo their mistake, if you hate them so much.

  45. Kseniya says

    Very nice, PZ. I often think in similar terms about mortality and our role in life: That we promote the lives of those who will follow us – whether we do so directly, as parents, or as advocates for the improvement of the human condition. It’s a kind of immortality, being a link in the chain of human existence. Even after we are long forgotten, we still will have existed. What matters most is what we did with our time here.

    My dad is alive and well, though he lost his own father seven years ago.

    Happy Father’s Day, all you dads!

  46. Not that Louis says

    I lost my father in 1995. My daughter, the bio-chem major (fatherly boasting here, sorry), was five years old at the time. She remembers that he used to call her “Princess”, but little else about him. My father and his granddaughter excelled at math. On a real good day, I can spell “Calculus.” My father was an excellent swimmer and his granddaughter looks like a dolphin when she gets in a pool. I swim like a concrete block. I could cite other examples, but never mind. I’m sorry they didn’t get to know each other better, but I’m glad to note that he is not entirely gone from my life. PS: My daughter gave me a copy of Dawkins’s “The Ancestor’s Tale” for Father’s Day. I’m going to be busy for a while.

  47. JM Inc. says

    What an excellent view of life, PZ – quite beautiful. I’m often struck by how quixotically wonderful the Humanistic world view is – the good with the bad, taken both in stride without either ever being allowed to take over one’s life – as you mentioned, not just glum nihilism, as would seem befitting for people pretty much doomed from the start. It’s the “Old Yeller” version of events rather than the “Scraps went to live on a big old farm” version.

    I’m afraid fatherhood just isn’t in my future, at all. No offence intended, I respect fathers and parents generally a great deal, but it just strikes me as absolutely the worst thing I personally could ever do with my life. I’ve always felt so and I can hardly imagine a situation in which I would change my mind. I suspect my Catholic forebears for the past thousand and half years or so would have cursed me to think that I’d have gotten the blasphemous idea into my head that my life was about something other than reproduction or servicing an imaginary superbeing. But that’s the other wonderful thing about Humanism, isn’t it? – do what’s best for you and yours, and don’t toil away your life in favour of what to you are unimportant and impersonal ends.

  48. ajani57 says

    Your essay made me cry and made me want to call somebody. The problem is the man my mother is married to molested me before running off with my mother when I was five. In the three times I’ve seen him since then, he still wants me to sit in his lap and kiss him (I’m 50) so I stay away from that. My real dad left us kids with his resentful new wife and we saw him only a few more times before he died. And while I am ever grateful for the court ordered child support (It is paying for our daughter’s wedding next month!), my ex is not terribly interested in knowing stuff about his kids. So who do I call?

    I just called my 17 year old son at work and told him happy father’s day for the magnificent dad he will be someday. His kids will be very lucky. I can finish crying now. It all matters, it really does.

  49. CortxVortx says

    You think parents will be around forever, but they won’t, and it’s a shock to lose one, then the other.

    I tell friends who still have living parents to visit or at least call often. The day will come when you can’t do that anymore.

  50. - says

    That is what fatherhood is really about: not immortality, not long-term reward, but self-sacrifice to launch a new generation into the world with a little momentum and a little potential … potential to stand autonomously and be something new; not to serve the past but to become the future. We regretfully watch our fathers fall away behind us, knowing that we will be next, and at the same time we prepare our own children to carry on and be themselves, just as we were given this chance at life.

    That’s the punchline? Self-sacrifice? And that’s not nihilistic?

  51. Interrobang says

    It’s funny that someone mentioned Shakespeare upthread, because I was going to. More people know of him now that he’s long dead than knew him when he was alive, and as far as we know he never had children. Speaking as one writer to another, there’s an object lesson in there for you, PZ.

  52. Hairhead says

    My father is 87 years old, mentally and physically vigorous, and looks to outlive my mother, who is only 79.

    We had a difficult childhood: I was small, short-sighted, unco-ordinated, socially ungifted, extremely smart, loathed physical violence — and a secret atheist. I just never saw anything there. My Dad was a commando in WWII, a minister, a fitness fanatic his entire life.

    At one point we didn’t speak for two years.

    But at age 40, I decided that “we” (of My-Dad-and-me) was worth something, worth preserving, worth growing. And after much work on my part, we now have a relationship: a very late in life relationship, but a relationship nonetheless.

    And now I admit that I am not yet ready to say goodbye. And so I said that to him today.

    Happy Father’s Day.

  53. clinteas says

    A good essay,PZ,well written !
    As wowbagger has said,Fathers Day here in Australia is in September,but I took the opportunity and called my dad,who is alive and well back there in Germany,afrer reading your piece !
    I had the luck that he was there for me even after parents divorced,and sacrificed a lot of his time and energy to see me despite us living hundrets of km apart.

    Alex,No 60:

    //Yay for suffering to make babies so that they too can suffer to make babies!//
    Thats what those evil philosophers mean when they say life is absurd !

  54. says

    Like Sili, I recently lost my mother. Her death was unexpected, and most of our family expected Dad to go first since he had been having a great deal of heart trouble over the last five years.

    I talk to my Dad at least once a week, but lately it has been more often. And the reason is that every word of his from now on will be all the more precious as I realize that his life is winding towards the end.

    Even the words when he tells me he doesn’t think I am really an atheist. Even the words when he talks over me because he is losing his hearing and doesn’t realize that I was speaking. Even the words when he gives me a hard time about smoking (and I know he’s right.)

    All of the words he shares with me in his remaining time are precious.

    I’m lucky to have been born to my parents, especially when I see the difficulties other people have with their parents. I’ll do my best to remember him, but I am human. He sacrificed many of his dreams for raising 9 kids, and it cost him dearly. He grumbled about it, but I think he feels well-rewarded.

    Thanks, PZ. I think your kids are lucky, too.

  55. BGT says

    Good post PZ!

    While my father may have been worthless himself, there was someone to step in, and that was my grandfather. As you say, memories do fade, but in my case, the memory of my grandfather does provide me inspiration to be a better father so that my daughter won’t be stuck with the kind of “father” that I had. I just wish some of the details could stay longer….

    Back to lurking.

  56. CortxVortx says

    Lo! some we loved, the loveliest and best
    That Time and Fate of all their Vintage prest,
    Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
    And one by one crept silently to Rest.

    — Omar Khayyam

  57. Crudely Wrott says

    #67 asks, “That’s the punchline? Self-sacrifice? And that’s not nihilistic?”

    Yep! That is self-sacrifice and no, it is not nihilistic. There is always a little bit left that carries over to the next generation. Sort of like how useful traits are carried from one generation to another without regard to immediate usefulness.

    The difference between humans and the rest of life that exists on earth is that we can do it on purpose. Remember, knowledge and instruction given by parent to child is on purpose rather than dependent upon RM and NS.

    As far as we can tell, life depends on extant conditions for survival; intelligence depends on understanding and exploiting this, a trait that life without conscious intent (broadly and in general) does not seem to possess. Intelligent life (read, “us”) has the ability to take advantage of biological evolution and has the ability to bend the rules a bit or, failing that , taking advantage of the rules to obtain a desired result. (Desire also lacking from the bulk of life “as we know it.”)

    If this were not so there would probably be just a couple kinds of dog, few kinds of cat and even fewer philosophers. Philosophies being descendant from experience and intent and predisposition, don’t you know.

  58. says

    Thank you for another moving essay about your dad, PZ.

    As Hank observed above, not all of us were so lucky with our birth fathers. Still, I definitely married up–not in terms of class or wealth, but in terms of how Mr. thalarctos’ family treats and looks out for and cares for each other.

    Men like my dad-in-law, and like many of the guys I’ve been lucky enough to know in RL and online, who love and care about their families, and treat them well, deserve to be recognized and remembered for doing so–it’s far from universal, and can’t be taken for granted.

    You’re lucky to have had such a great dad, and he’s lucky to be remembered by a son like you–both explicitly in your writing, as well as by how you live your life.

  59. DLC says

    nice article.
    Now . . . you know that your life is completely void without having a witch-doctor to hand-hold you through it.(/joke)

  60. web says

    I don’t hope for immortality, or anything like it. And beyond my own children’s lives, I don’t expect to be remembered. It wouldn’t really matter much then. I’m an atheist who believes that “mother nature” is one dispassionate bitch. Get in the way and “pow”, you’re gone.

    I have four children, which seems to be a rather large family these days. And I just enjoy them as much as I can as often as I can for who they are. Sometimes they piss me off, and I want to throttle them. And sometimes they are charm personified. You get it all with kids. But on days like today, when we all went for a long family bike ride (me towing the youngest one in a bike trailer), visited their grandparents, three of them rode a horse for the first time, and we just got back to the house at dark, it makes being a father feel like the greatest privilege in the world. I love these days with my wife and kids.

    For me the biggest worry is the crazy world my children are growing up in. I seriously worry what kind of life they will have. We have vacuumed the oceans of fish, we have idiots like Bush in the Oval office, we have greedy short term thinking CEOs of companies, we have peak oil on the near horizon. There’s a big shitstorm coming, and I’m not sure that humans have the capacity to weather it in any kind of graceful way. That’s my big concern as a father. If I can teach my kids to survive this, that’s enough (and we have taught them to grow things, put seeds by, make things, spin, weave, dye, shoot a bow and arrow, and a ton of other practical skills). I’m not some Montana militia survivalist nutcase (hell, I’m not even American), but there’s a lot of turmoil on the horizon, and as a father, it’s the thing I worry about most. When energy and water are in short supply, it’s going to get ugly. The day of the 5000 mile caesar salad are coming to an end. If you have children, you have a reason to be concerned. And it won’t be the rapture that’s the problem, it’s going to be us. Tribal, stupid, xenophobic, selfish us. Wait for it.

  61. Crudely Wrott says

    Ohh, yeah.

    “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou.”

    For “thou” try substituting the sum of human experience and the remembrance of those who told us about it. Piecemeal according to each individual’s compass. We are not merely the sum of our genes; mostly we are the sum of our fathers. (And mothers. Don’t feel left out, ladies. You did have your day last month and I delight in you. But it is Father’s Day, after all, and that is the seed of this thread.)

    Could Khayyam’s intent be the notion that we grow slowly, with delight in each increment? And so evolve slowly, exasperatingly, frustratingly and yet welcomely? I suspect as much though I am swimming through the same dark sea that daunted Omar as it daunts us.

  62. baryogenesis says

    Great bit, PZ. Sometimes you get on a roll and, regardless of the topic, you pull me in as if I’m reading a tasty piece of literature. My parents always backed me up, even though there were terrible disagreements about politics, religion, chosen path of life in general. I found it easier to move away from Middle America and have fewer conversations. I do know they felt they were doing their best and there was a reconciliation of sorts. Yes, let your kids be themselves! Thanks for the memories.

  63. ddr says

    Good post PZ.

    My dad and I never had much in common. It wasn’t that we couldn’t get along. It was just that there was not a single thing that he found interesting that I enjoyed, and nothing I thought was interesting or important meant anything to him. Still, I know he loved me and he worked hard to provide for me and the rest of the family. He died in 1983 when he had the last of a series of heart attacks. I was there, giving him CPR, sharing his final breaths.

    Today, I an older than he was when he had his first heart attack and only 3 years younger than he was when he died. I’m lucky enough to have a daughter that likes some of the same music and activities that I like. And I’m in better health, having learned by example that smoking is a poor habit to take up.

    So it is indeed a day to reflect on our fathers, the adult they helped us to become, and our children and the adults we are helping them become.

  64. James F says

    Well said indeed, PZ. I was definitely influenced by my dad leaving his college biology and chemistry textbooks around the house when I was a kid, and he, like my mom, has always given me free rein to pursue my interests.

    I would also point out that our words and actions reverberate through future generations, whether they be from parent to child, teacher to student, or between friends. Every paper I publish may spark an idea or crystallize a concept for another researcher some time in the future, or they may simply happen upon my body of work and wonder at how far science has progressed since my time.

  65. says

    Beautiful thoughts, PZ. As a young man pondering the idea of fatherhood, this was particularly meaningful to me.

    A chestnut from Dan Dennett:

    A: When a person dies, we can’t just turn that off. We go on thinking about that person as if that person were still alive. Our inability to turn off our people-seer and our people-hearer naturally turns into our hallucinations of ghosts, our sense that they are still with us.

    Q: But they are still with us, through the process of memory.

    A: These aren’t just memories.

  66. brian says

    I am the father of a 5 year old beautiful girl, and I sincerely hope that I can be the kind of father whose daughter would be able to write the same for me as you did for your father PZ.
    You were fortunate to have him in your life.

  67. BlueIndependent says

    I agree with #10. Contemplating one’s own mortality is never a fun exercise, and contemplating that of your forbears can be just as difficult.

    Thanks for sharing your life experience PZ.

  68. says

    I lost my Dad four years ago to lung cancer and I still miss him very much. We weren’t close and I wish we had had more in common as he was a very likable guy. Thanks for the beautiful tribute.

  69. Crudely Wrott says

    James F says,”I would also point out that our words and actions reverberate through future generations, whether they be from parent to child, teacher to student, or between friends. Every paper I publish may spark an idea or crystallize a concept for another researcher some time in the future, or they may simply happen upon my body of work and wonder at how far science has progressed since my time.”

    And isn’t that the sweetness of it all?

    An amazing thing is that the progress of human understanding of natural process (and the ability to exploit nature) seems to mirror the whole story of life. As life has exploited this environment so have we exploited our observations of same.

    If so, this would speak loudly that our efforts are as natural as the efforts of the dandelions to take over my yard. If so, this would explain why I decided to reseed my yard with native grasses and wildflowers. Goodbye to dandelions. In addition to not having to mow the lawn, I had the approval of my neighbors and folks stopping by to take pictures. The photos will outlive me, which is merely part of my plan.

    Another part of my plan is to teach my children to act similarly. Don’t resist, coexist. Unless of course there is a direct threat and then follow instinct.

    And I thank my father(s) for knowing how. My parents have evolved in me. And I teach my children . . .

  70. OctoberMermaid says

    I hate to be a downer and one of the few people to say this, but I DO find this nihilistic and hopeless. I mean, I get that you’re trying to make it sound and seem better than it is but I’m really not buying it.

    It all mostly IS pointless and depressing. We just obviously have to be careful when we say that because mouth-breathing creationists will leap all over it, saying “See? Their thinking is dangerous!” Well, you know, maybe it is all depressing, but that doesn’t make something untrue.

    As for me, I won’t be having any children, either. For one thing, I don’t feel like my genes are worthy of being passed on and for another, I feel like the bad in life far outweighs the good. The only reason I believe most people live at all is because we’re so used to doing it.

    So yeah, downer, but you know, I think it IS a downer. I get what PZ’s saying, but I don’t buy any of the good feelings that are trying to be injected into this.

  71. Crudely Wrott says

    Oh my dear OctoberMermaid, you certainly do not mean to imply that because your view of your life is so sad that mine must be so too?

  72. OctoberMermaid says

    Well, no. I’m sure I implied more things than I really meant to when I made that post because I was pretty upset about the whole thing, but I do feel mainly like what I said. I mean, maybe people do see hope in all of this somehow, but I guess the best i can say is that I don’t see how you could.

  73. Crudely Wrott says

    You don’t have to see it like I do. It just makes me sad to be informed of your sense of hopelessness. Whether or not you have children is less important than whether or not you will leave a trail worth following when you are finished.

    I cannot tell where that trail might lead or what it might mean to anyone following. But I can tell that it will make at least some difference.

    Some will listen to you and of that group some will follow. Some of them will be children. My opinion is that their lives are important to future generations and that your point of view, and mine, an PZ’s all have a distinct bearing on how they will reckon reality and how they will raise their children.

    A long time ago I said to myself, “There is no phenomena for us to take refuge in. There are processes that we can understand and use.”

    You and I and all the rest of us can take advantage or not.

    Go well.

  74. JohnB says

    That was beautiful, PZ. A poignant reminder that we are all, as John Burroughs said, insects of the hour, a flash of light between two eternities. I don’t find it at all depressing, but humbling in the truest sense. Against the scale of time and the immensity of the universe, our individual lives are nothing, but to our children, to whom we hope to impart something of what we know and love ourselves, we are important, or aspire to be.

    I hope you had a happy Father’s Day.

  75. Autumn says

    Just this Saturday my parents visited me, and I got to watch my almost-five-years-old son play with his grandfather.
    I can’t help hoping that my dad will be with us for many more years, but he will most probably not be, as his smoking related problems are getting bad. I know, however, that at least my son will have a few memories of his grandad as an active, vital individual.
    I can only remember the very last parts of my own grandfathers’s lives, and I certainly can’t remember them being well enough to lift me up, or play tickle monster.
    Among all the other reasons, I love my father for being stubborn enough to stick around and put up with obvious discomfort to play with his grandson.
    Random assortment of memories:
    Dad taking me fishing in the local retention pond (caught a two pound bass one time)
    Dad taking me with him to go windsurfing (I knelt on the bow of the board as he sailed into the Indian River, with a pod of dolphins ten meters away)
    Dad taking a bunch of us to my grandfather’s truckyard to light firecrackers on Independence Day (it was outside the city limits and, at the time, that made it legal to ignite anything less than a nuke), and realizing that an M-60’s waterproof fuse made it possible to toss one into a barrel of diesel fuel, resulting in an outstanding fireball

  76. Costanza says

    Nicely put…but consider this; in 10^12 years, who’s going to know? (I’m a cosmologist)

  77. Kseniya says

    Nicely put…but consider this; in 10^12 years, who’s going to know? (I’m a cosmologist)

    Why does that matter? The job is here, and the time is now.

  78. dan says

    PZ, thanks for the post – shouldn’t you be hangin’ with your kids?
    I know that I regret my Dad has not been the person that I would have wanted him to be; but he is who he is. Now I have heard that his cancer is back, and spread to his bones. I am waiting for him to tell me himself; but so far, he has not.. I talked about that with my wife, and in talking, I realised; what if I was the one with cancer? How would I find the strength to tell my daughter?
    So I am not angry that he hasn’t told me yet; I am waiting for him to be ready.

    Anyway, losing your parents is what they want; the worst thing for a parent is to lose your child, so don’t feel bad about outliving them; it’s what they would want.

    My mom eats life up; she knows she will be dead someday soon, and it doesn’t mark her outlook in the slightest. She is the cheerfull atheist, and I love having her outlook to counter the fatalism of my Dad. I wonder if he will find acceptance before the end? I hope so.

    OctoberMermaid – I lived with a depressed person (she is better now) and you sound like someone I’ve known. Your outlook is worse than reality. I know that you will not agree with that, but I have to tell you, just the same.

    PZ – thanks for throwing this out there.

  79. dead santa says

    #88 OctoberMermaid,

    Sorry to see that you’re feeling depressed. It’s ok not to have kids, but your genes are just as “good” as anyone else’s genes since genes have no inherent goodness. Depressed or not, you will be dead one day, but you’re alive now; try not to use up too much of your life calculating its worth. I don’t look for hope in life, just something interesting; lots of that to be found.

  80. Crudely Wrott says

    Kseniya wrote, and I am delighted to quote, “The job is here, and the time is now.”

    This is eloquence, and worthy advice.

    Although we know a lot about the past and hypothesize much about the future, the only time we have is NOW. We live on the cusp of the next moment even as the last moment recedes from the shore of our awareness. As comfortable as we are talking about time past or time to come, the only chance we have to do so is now. That’s what makes life so precious. And that is why, though I don’t like “holidays,” I have celebrated may father today. And have been celebrated by my children.

    And that is why I celebrate OctoberMaid today. Because yesterday I was unaware and tomorrow one ore both of us might be gone.

    To you, O’Maid (if I may be so familiar), good wishes and good fortune. I’ll wager that you will be happier someday than you are today. Then you can come back here and tell us all about it. Happy trails and remember, stay in the saddle, keep your word good and have no fear.

  81. phat says

    I’ve often suspected that there is some influence on future generations that parents and grand-parents have that people haven’t really looked at.

    Case in point: It’s been said to me that a superstition amongst the Welsh is that if you touch a blade without washing your hands after touching it you may cut the next person you touch.

    Now I haven’t looked into whether or not that superstition actually is something that the Welsh have held. But it was something pointed out to me.

    When I heard this it occurred to me that my father, a second generation Welsh-American, was always very careful about knives and blades and very specifically made sure that I was careful with them, more than my Cub-scout cohorts. My father didn’t know anything about that superstition, that I know of.

    In a way, it seems to me, that people do continue to live on in other people’s behaviors. Whether or not the people who continue those behaviors even know that that’s what’s going on.

    They don’t “live” in the sense of being living beings, of course, but their influence is felt and they live, for at least a very long time, after they die. And this isn’t about famous people who make speeches to large numbers of people. It’s about the small behaviors that may be influenced by one person over their progeny.

    This may point to why people want to have more influence over more people, why power over large groups of people may be something people strive for. It’s not that they really know that they will be able to sit in heaven and see the fruits of their influence. They won’t. They see that if they do things now, to influence lots of people, now, that they will be remembered and that their assumptions of leadership will be carried on and their beliefs of self-worth will continue.

    I suspect that everyone has this understanding, or suspicion, in some manner.


  82. JJR says

    My maternal grandfather I barely remember at all, and he did die at a relatively young age owing to a cardiac disorder. But my paternal grandfather I still remember well and quite fondly. He was quite a character, full of life and good humor, quick with a joke, etc. I wasn’t very old when he passed, but it was acutely painful for me at the time. He’d died of a stroke, very suddenly. That was back in 1979. I remember the funeral…remember how mom and I cried. My Dad’s own relationship with his Dad was probably a bit more strained. I don’t think my Dad cried with us, but he was of that generation (coming of age in the 1950s) where boys were told not to openly grieve or show emotion.

    I’m grateful my Dad is still alive and in good health, though I know that as I’m an adult myself, that he won’t be around forever. Dad and I also have a relationship that has been strained in the past but is better now. Mom has always been good at mediating the peace between us, and I shudder to think what life would be like if we lost Mom first. I think Mom and I could cope better if we lost Dad first than the other way around. But I will try to face whatever the future holds with courage and honor both my parents. I’m not exactly the most financially adept individual, so I wouldn’t really have the means to care for either one of them extensively–just hope it never comes to that. I’m grateful for their adopting me and raising me as their own. Maybe one day I’ll trace down my birth mother, but for now I just can’t justify to myself the financial cost of paying a lawyer to help me do that.

    Thanks for sharing that post, PZ; I’ll continue reading the rest of it but just wanted to toss in my comment right quick.

  83. shane says

    Thanks PZ. We all, meaning me really, tend to take our fathers for granted until it’s too late. Might have to call him and ask him about cars.

    I’ve always thought our progenitors were pretty cool. Imagine the cold, the starvation, the dirt, the shit all our forebears had to go through at some point. And they did. And they all survived long enough to bear some offspring. We exist in spite of all the crap a million years will throw at you. It’s just cool.

  84. Stephen Wells says

    “Your children are not your children; you are the bow from which your children are sent as living arrows into the world.” -Kahlil Gibran.

  85. John says

    Damn PZ! You brought a tear to my eye! Happy Father’s Day to all responsible dads out there.

  86. Richard says

    I liked what you said about fathers. It only goes to show that religion has no monopoly on inspiration. As rational people, we must speak to the hearts of those around us, not just their minds.

  87. says

    #68 Interrobang: William Shakespeare had three children, named Susanna, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at age 11, but the daughters survived to adulthood. Just FYI.

    PZ, that was a beautiful essay. My Da’s been gone over a decade now, but I still find myself thinking of him from time to time (not just on Father’s Day). He had his flaws, but his love and support carry me to this day, as I hope mine will do for my beloved 10-year-old son.

  88. MAJeff, OM says

    OctoberMermaid – I lived with a depressed person (she is better now) and you sound like someone I’ve known

    I’ve been that person, and it sounds familiar.

    Long-term hopeless? Sure. There’s no “point” to it and it can be easy to fall into despair. What’s awesome, though? My cat sitting on my lap right now, purring and making the whole chair vibrate. Really good food (like the putanesca I made last night). Dutch football. A great kiss. A good conversation.

    Stupid little things? Sure. But, that’s what life is, the stupid little things.

    We live. Yeah, it’s habit. But it’s all there is. It sucks and it’s awesome simultaneously.

    [pharmaceuticals can help these feelings. I did the prozac thing for a few months–got me where I needed to be and now I hope to never go on it again.]

  89. Pat Silver says

    That’s a beautiful piece of writing, PX. Unfortunately for me it threw into even sharper focus the pain and the diffficulty of reconciling a non-religious life within the framework of having no children and therefore no immortality.

  90. dWhisper says

    Great post PZ.

    While I’ve never had a father that meant anything like this, it’s what I’ve always wanted to be to my kids someday. As I say to everyone when the conversation turns to death (as it does when you’re arguing/debating Christians and creationists… they just love people dying):

    “The only measure of immortality we can obtain is in the thoughts and hearts of those we know before death.”

  91. Kseniya says

    Pat Silver:

    I refer you back to my first comment (#62) on this thread. Parenthood isn’t the only path. Passing on your genes isn’t everything. We’re social creatures; we affect each other in ways that go beyond familial relationships. Many a childless person has made a positive and lasting impact on the world around them. These impacts may be minor, they may affect a small number of people, but unless one isolates ones self from humanity altogether, interaction – and influence, even on the smallest possible scale – is inevitable. I contend that any positive influence on the world is a non-trivial.

    For example, I’ll never forget the kindness of the childless elderly couple who live three doors down. They were like the neighborhood grandparents for us kids on the block. They never yelled “Get off of my lawn!” – they invited us into their yard, to taste a green bean fresh off the vines in their little vegetable gardens; we were explicitly welcomed to cut through their yard to get to the woods behind them to play; we were welcome in their home to check out the cool weird old stuff they had (rotary telephones, and old non-electricl, crank-it-up Victrola with a collection of laquer 78 rmp records, and so on.) I’ll never forget the enthusiasm of the town librarian had for helping any child (such as myself) who came in looking for something to expand her horizons. I’ll never forget the compassion and generosity of those people from our community (town, and church) who helped my dad, my brothers, and I deal with the terminal illness and passing of my mother. None of these people were family, or even friends really – but they form an important, influential, and indelible part of our world nonetheless.

    I hope that helps cast a little positive light on the problem… :-)

  92. MAJeff, OM says

    Unfortunately for me it threw into even sharper focus the pain and the diffficulty of reconciling a non-religious life within the framework of having no children and therefore no immortality.

    I’m a teacher. Everyone’s kids are mine. {insert evil cackle?]

  93. maxi says

    Thanks PZ. I have emailed this to my Dad. I love him so much and can’t even contemplate life without him.

  94. SueW says

    Each of those men were for a time among the most important people in their children’s lives, and now, nothing but dust. Do you think you will be any different?

    I know I’m different – I don’t have any kids. And I never will. When I go, my story will die with me. Millions of years of an unbroken chain of descendants ends right here!

    I miss my dad too. If he was around today he’d be going on 93.

  95. Aquaria says

    I’m glad so many had great dads, and envy you for it. My biological father was an asshole, through and through–a mean drunk, a womanizer, an abuser and, when my mother couldn’t take it anymore and left the son-of-a-bitch, he became a neglecter. I heard from him twice between the ages of 3 and 22. No visits, no phone calls, not even a birthday card, so forget Christmas. He decided he wanted to be my father when I was 22, and asked my family how to contact me (I had moved out of state). By then, it was too late. I wanted nothing to do with him, and I had nothing to do with him.

    When I learned he died, my only response was, “Good. One less son-of-a-bitch in the world.”

    And I don’t regret that remark; I only regret that I didn’t tell him to his face what a worthless piece of shit I thought he was. But I’d thought he could wait as many years to hear it from me as he kept me waiting to hear from him. Yeah, it’s petty and vindictive, but I’m a petty and vindictive person. If a normal person had behaved the way he did, I wouldn’t have anything to do with him or her, either. Blood isn’t a sufficient criterion to change that.

    To me, my real dad was my mother’s second husband. He was there when I broke my leg (and carried me into the house, since I wasn’t used to crutches yet), he was there when my heart got broken the first time, he was there when I went on my first date, he was there when I was getting married–all the important things in my life, he was there. Even when he and my mother divorced, he cared about me and took care of me when I needed it. When he was dying of AIDS, sick and in pain, I was getting divorced, and he was still thinking of me. He said if I needed help, I could move where he was, he’d help me get on my feet again, even though I hadn’t asked or even needed the help. But he still offered, unasked.

    He died only a few months later.

    I loved him, and yesterday, I honored him. He taught me that it’s not the biology, but what a person does that makes him or her a parent. I learned that the hard way

    Funny… My sperm donor father was the religious man, and the man who took care of me was the atheist. What was that about people needing religion to be moral…?

  96. BobbyEarle says

    I still wonder if I would have been a good father. I lost my daughter to SIDS (she would have been 22 this year). I think I would have. My father died 3 years ago after almost kicking cancers’ hoary ass.

    Father’s Day has always been a tough one for me, and twice as crumby since my dad’s passing…but when I look around and see the dads, and the moms, and the kids, well, instead of making me sad and bitter, I rejoice at their good fortune and smile a bit inside.

    I never post anything this long, usually just some small joke or a comment reflecting how cool somebody’s post was. This one day (and the birthday of my daughter) get me a bit, and going through the thread made me feel a lot better.

    Thanks to all for that, and thanks to PZ for this…I could have used it a long time ago.

  97. khan says

    I wonder if my father is still alive.

    Do any of you older men ever look in the mirror and see your father?

    I’m almost 60 (and female), and the other day I looked in the mirror and saw my mother (dead ~ 5 years). Lost my equilibrium for a minute.

  98. Peter says

    Gorgeous. You brought a friggin tear to my eye. How can you be a bad ass scientist and a great (almost) poet.

  99. mrchaoss says

    A beautiful post, indeed, PZ. Nothing new to add, nothing that I could say more eloquently than the heart-felt thoughts shared by previous commenters. However, an observation: many commenters shared that they’ve chosen not to make their own sacrifices and have children.

    I don’t begrudge them their choice, but it scares me a little to think that the best and the brightest are choosing not to pass on their genes, and Britney won’t stop.

  100. Timothy says

    Almost made me cry, PZ. And those fools have the nerve to say that there’s no beauty in science and fact!

  101. says

    I think atheists respect “those that were” more than anyone of any religion…

    Your father might be gone, but you carry him with you everyday. In a way, children are the path to immortality. :-)

  102. Josha says

    I love my dad even though we don’t express it with emotion, we express it with humor.

  103. Russha Montag says

    This makes me think of all the things I would say to my father. There are many things I would say and, if he weren’t here on Father’s Day, many things I would regret having not said. So, here it goes… Might as well say them now!!!

    My father once got very mad at me for one of those stupid, teenage decisions we all decide are great to make at the time but find out later they weren’t the best decisions to ever make. His father is the one that saved me from the ringer. I remember at my grandfather’s funeral that my dad (being the only male in the family to cry – which is one of the things he did in life that earned my undying respect) said that his father let him be him and make his own mistakes while supporting him unconditionally; for that he will never forget the love he was given or the lessons earned.

    I walked away from that experience, as I do with every encounter with my father, knowing that I am unconditionally loved. I am lucky. I respect my father for his mistakes as much as I respect him for overcoming adversity and using it to make him a better person.

    I dread, daily, that I will have to some day attend his funeral while knowing that is what he would want, not wanting to bury his own daughter. I hope that he knows, with every decision that he makes as a man and as a father, that he is respected, equally loved, and equally depended on as not only as a friend, supporter but above all a father.

  104. Tim B. says


    If you’re still reading, I wanted to offer kudos for your interesting, well-expressed comments. You didn’t strike me as depressed (a patronizing insinuation); rather, your remarks are rational, enlightened even. I’d really like you to extend your thoughts here about blitheness in the face of meaning’s ultimate erasure (or you can email me, if you wish).

  105. geetha says

    Very touching post. Seeing the comments it is clear that you have kindled the feelings of your readers. My dad, a caring gentle and patient man who had answers to all our questions, an agnostic who encouraged me to question everything died in 2000. As you said he is slowly fading from my memory and your post has brought all the memories back with a jolt. Oh how I miss him. I wish I could be half the parent he was to me – i hope my adopted lovable daughter who is the centre of my life now would remember me as a person who helped her to flower as a sensible human being. Well parenting is no just passing on your genes. It’s much much more than that – givng your child the roots of responsibility and the wings of freedom