• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: New Models for Fathers

Roles, assumptions, gratitude.

June 12, 2014

I have quite a collection of academic jokes that help make my point in class. They include, among others, “Pie are square? Pie aren’t square; cake are square. Pie are round” This practice leads my husband to remind me to not have any dreams of quitting my day job to become a late night comedian. I remembered one such joke when I found myself thinking about Father’s Day, which occurs this weekend. Father’s Day seems to be a mirror image of Mother’s Day, and I found myself wondering about its history. It seems that the exact history of Father’s Day is somewhat ambiguous, and may have a history that is linked to the celebration of Mother’s Day. This reminded me of yet another joke that asks “where do they burry dead mathematicians? In the symmetry!”

Years ago, one of my husband’s relatives attended a conference that was trying to sell its attendees some products as well as a way of looking at life. He came home confidently proclaiming that he had a new understanding of what his family life should look like. “Anything that has to do with the finances or running the household, that is my job, but anything that has to do with the home or the heart; that is her job.” He told us.

At the time, I was supporting us as my husband attended law school, and my husband later told me that he wanted to tell his relative to shut up. “Dude, you could ruin a good situation here” he was tempted to tell him. If I was to buy into that picture of family life, his career in law school could come to an abrupt end. I have spent my academic career in male-dominated fields, and I am used to hearing that the roles I play in life are not the ones that are expected of a woman, so I listened to this relative and laughed to myself.

However, as we approach Father’s Day, I find myself thinking of the fathers I know, and of the roles they play in life. While some focus on running the family finances, many have also assumed less traditional roles as they parent their children.

There are several academic dads that I know who took semester leaves when their children arrived, so they could take on the job of primary caregiver. This allowed them to spend a great amount of time with their children when they were infants, and made them all the better fathers as the years progressed.

For some, these new roles did not come by choice. Both my brother-in-law and a friend from college found themselves as single fathers raising children when their wives were prematurely taken from them by cancer. It must have been difficult to simultaneously grieve the death of a spouse and to learn to become the sole caregiver of a child, or, in the case of my brother-in-law, of two young children. He is managing to survive with great assistance from my parents, who are playing an important role in the lives of my sister’s children. I recall how helpless my own father seemed as he watched my mother care for their two daughters as I was growing up, and smile when he now easily takes over on diaper duty for his youngest grandchild. I am sure that he would never have imagined that he would be changing diapers as he approached his eightieth birthday. But he does, and the children will always carry with them fond memories of the gentle man they sometimes call “pop.”

He was the original “math geek” in the family, but the “macho” view of the father figure is one that my father has always been able to choose to ignore. Growing up, he taught me the wisdom of sometimes walking away from a fight rather than engaging in one. It is a lesson that I sometimes fail to remember as my daughter grows into an ever more combatant age. I once celebrated his peaceful nature by buying him a book filled with quotes about peace. One such quote was the original decree creating Mother’s Day, a day designed to work towards and celebrate peace. As we celebrate a day honoring him and other fathers, I remember it and the many gifts he gave me as I grew up. And so, to my dad and to all the fathers out there, I wish you all a very

Happy Father’s Day.


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