Friday, June 17, 2005

Flashes from the Past: A Great Dad

It's tough when there are so many to pick from, but for this Father's Day, we chose a father whose son grappled with significant disability.

His son had misfortune of starting out life with German measles. At birth the boy only saw lights, shadows, and colors, but then he lost all vision at the age of 4. In fact, the day he came home from the hospital, he later recalled that when he asked for his favorite coloring pencils, "my father had notched each pencil in a distinctive pattern so I might still know which color went with which pencil. He also cut letters and numerals out of paper so that I could learn what (my brother) already knew..." So from the very beginning, this Dad was determined to include him in everything.

Everyone learned Braille and took turns translating works for him. His family also made a point of carrying on "a continuous commentary about the passing scenery as I walked, bicycled, or traveled by train. Clouds, colors, cows, cars- everything mundane or out of the ordinary – were mentioned, described, and, when possible, demonstrated. In this way, I could integrate the world and let my imagination fill in the blanks...Nothing was out of reach; nothing Arie (his brother) was allowed to do was off limits to me...”

Intrinsic interests were actively encouraged: “One day..I decided during lunch recess to start a collection of pressed plants…My father was only too pleased to join in the search for plants. I began to learn from him about leaf shapes, venation patterns, modes of branching, and flower characteristics…”

What point, one might think, was there to be teaching a blind boy so much about nature's diversity? Well, this boy grew up to be Geerat Vermeij, Professor of Marine Ecology and Paleoecology UC Davis, MacArthur Fellow and publisher of almost 100 articles and 4 books, including who published nearly 100 articles and 4 books, including his autobiography: (Privileged Hands: A Scientific Life). Vermeij's dad was a remarkable example of steadfastness, optimism, and encouragement. He saw the big dream and he gave it to his son.

Have a great Father's Day weekend.

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