• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Fathers and Dads

All kinds of fathers.

June 15, 2017

When I teach Statistics, I often point out the fact that some mathematical terms may have different names in different situations, as, for example, when they are calculated for data drawn from a population verses data drawn from a sample. To illustrate this, I sometimes give them a name that they are not familiar with, “Mrs. Xxx,” and ask them who that person is. They generally look at me with blank faces. I then explain to them that the name I gave them is my own, as I often use my husband’s last name in social situations that involve him or my daughter, much as different notation can be used for mean or variance in different statistical situations. I found myself thinking of this recently as we approach a weekend in which we will celebrate people who can be called by two different names; both “father” and “dad.”

Getting to be a father is sometimes an easy accomplishment, but sometimes a difficult one. For my husband, who (knowingly) married someone with many health issues, it was not only very difficult, but also something that he desired more than anything else. He was devastated when we lost our only biological child in miscarriage, but was holding our daughter in his arms when she looked up at us and stuck out her tongue. “That is just what babies do,” she insists when we tell her that story, but at the time it led him to proclaim “yup, she is ours.”

As we approach this weekend, I think of the many men I know who father, some in very non-typical ways. There are men who are fathers to children with serious physical, emotional and learning difficulties, and men who have taken on the role of both father and mother upon the deaths of their wives. There are step fathers, god fathers, fathers who look nothing like their adopted children and uncles and grandfathers. I am sure that there are situations in which men “father” that I have forgotten to list, but I know that the world is a better place for all that these diverse men do to make sure the next generation gets the best start possible in life.

I think of my brother in law who was left with two young children to raise alone after my sister died following her battle with cancer. As someone who has only had to parent one child at a time, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to come home from my sister’s (overflowing) funeral to a confused little girl and a baby in diapers. And I think of my father, in his eighties, who plays an important role in the lives of his three grandchildren. He is a “best buddy” to the youngest, now a tough little boy entering first grade.

And I remember my three friends who all began their lives thinking that they would spend their lives being called “father” as (celibate) Jesuit priests, until they all met their wives and became “fathers” in the more traditional use of the word. My own husband is a godfather to one of their children.

But I think that the memory that comes to mind most clearly this weekend is that of when my daughter first named my husband. She had been making the sound “mama” for quite some time, but always in response to frustration, so much so that I began to call it her “baby swear word.” Similarly, she did not attach any meaning to her sounds of “dada.” That, was, until one day when my husband took her into his arms and she looked up at him, and, catching his eyes, reached out her hand to touch his face and say “dada.” As he would do for many milestone events throughout her life, he pulled off his glasses to wipe away the tears that began immediately.

The adoption papers said he was a father, but it took my daughter to make him a “dad.”

                                                    Wishing all of my readers who “father” in any way a very Happy Father’s Day!

                     I also want to congratulate the Cleveland Cavaliers on another amazing season. You will always be champions in our eyes!



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