Thoughts in memory of my father

My father, Douglas Heard, died last month at the age of 77.  I don’t think he ever read Scientist Sees Squirrel, and he won’t be reading this post. But he’s a presence in everything I do.

I have a friend, far outside of science, who once told me that my blog posts are like sermons.  He didn’t know at the time that my father had been a minister (in the United Church of Canada).  Dad wrote and preached hundreds of sermons over his career, and I was there to hear quite a few of them.  And actually, my friend was right: in some ways my blog posts are like sermons.  They usually try to make a small but meaningful (to me) point; that point is (I hope) more often an attempt to build up than to tear down; and I often try to make my point via some kind of a story – a parable, Dad might have called it.

Dad loved to tell and to hear stories, and that meant I often heard the same stories over and over again through the years. Shortly after his death, though, a friend of the family (coincidentally, and importantly, also named Doug) told me one I’d never heard.  It seems that when younger Doug was a child, Dad was visiting his family and chatting with the grownups when younger Doug committed some now unremembered bit of misbehaviour.  Younger Doug’s mother, with a bit of a raised voice, said “Dougie, stop that!” – at which point my Dad (the older Doug) sat bolt upright, froze, and stopped talking, just for a moment.  I suppose he figured that he, not the younger Doug, had been caught doing something wrong.

Dad probably had, in fact, done something wrong.  Not right then, I mean, but something previously that his subconscious knew about and that tripped his neural “uh-oh” circuit. Just like scientists aren’t just scientists, ministers aren’t just ministers – both we and they are people.  And because we’re people, with all the frailties and failings that implies, not one of us goes through life in a state of perfection.  Over Dad’s long life, though, along with what he did wrong he also did an enormous pile of things right – which is why the younger Doug’s story makes me smile.

It’s is a story, and a lesson, I’m resolved to keep close to mind.  I and everyone I deal with, in science and outside it, will mess up at some point. What matters is what comes next: apology, atonement, attempts at repair; and ultimately, a moment’s act set in the context of a life’s work.

Thanks, Dad.

© Stephen Heard  September 4, 2017

12 thoughts on “Thoughts in memory of my father

  1. sleather2012

    Nice post – Coincidentally it was my late father’s birth-date (not birthday as he is no longer with us) yesterday, he would have been 93 if he hadn’t died nine years ago, and I wrote a little memory about him and his home brew on Facebook 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ScientistSeesSquirrel Post author

      Like any father and son do, Willa: sometimes famously, sometimes with some friction. But it didn’t have anything to do with science vs. religion. There are many faith traditions that see science as an ally rather than an enemy – a subject much too long for here, but think about the Jesuit order as an example.

      Although he never stopped reminding me that as a child, I was insistent that the mustard seed is NOT in fact the smallest of all seeds (see Matthew 13:31–32). I now know there’s a time for precision and a time for parable…


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