03 April 2014
Five years ago in March, I lost my dad to cancer at the age of 62. He had been otherwise active and healthy, and it happened in the span of 10 weeks. In short, it was sudden, unexpected and very early. He used to hate it when I said this, but IT SUCKED. Or rather, it SUCKS.
I am lucky. I have always loved my dad and I know he loved me. He told us he loved us. He was considerate, supportive and smart - if self effacing. As a father, he didn’t try to control us. He treated us like people, with our own thoughts and ideas. Intellectually, he grappled with lots of issues and took the logical side even when that was difficult. He did this not only once we were adults, but even when we were very young.
I remember one time I asked him about sex and he told me quite directly “Its great!” Another time he tried to help me learn how to defend myself from a bully at school. When I was 16, I remember walking through campus and me saying “maybe I’ll be a mathemetician like you” and him telling me that it would be fine, but that I shouldn’t necessarily try to do something because he did it - I should do what inspires me. When I was deciding where to go to college, his advice was that any of the choices would be awesome places to go.
When my sibs and I were kids, he set up his life so that he could be with us. He spent most afternoons working at home, at a time when that meant grading homework or doing research (drawing what I thought were silly graphs on quadrille paper) instead of checking email on a laptop. He made our lunches and did our laundry. He helped us with homework. He biked to work.
He also wrote more than 70 academic papers in mathematics and was the president of SIAM for a period of time. When he died his colleagues held a conference to honor him and talked about math research. People came from different parts of the world for it. His field, graph theory, is quite in vogue now.
When he died, I put up a website that hosted several obituaries and all of his academic papers. I literally didn’t know what else to do.
Five years on, I still want to tell the world what a great dad he was. I still spontaneously want to cry about something random that reminds me of him - like a great play in a soccer game.
Probably the thing I miss the most is the opportunity to ask him for his opinion about things I didn’t know to even ask about before, like raising children. I so deeply want to emulate him that it hurts.
And yet, five years on and with the help of my wife and good friends, I feel a mild satisfaction that I am doing just that. I believe that I am true to his legacy and carrying his torch by giving my love and time to my children and wife, all while crafting a newfangled successful career for myself within this calculated model. I have more to do, but my path - and myself - are so much influenced by him that I can really say that he lives on through me.
I love you, dad.