I can’t imagine a better Father’s Day present than the coincident timing of my daughter’s graduation. It’s an odd reaction, but people seem to think that I, as her father, deserve credit for the remarkable achievement that is hers: a PhD in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering. She did the work; she earned the degrees. In reality, I have a hard time spelling her title.
When it comes to the math involved, she stopped asking me for help back in Middle School. During her undergraduate years, when she considered a double major, I told her “Chill out, Ashley. It’s college! Explore yourself; have some fun.” Her considered response was, “If I just take a couple more courses during summer school, I can get a triple!” Which she subsequently did.
If I’ve had any influence on this outcome, it’s by the writing technique known as the “foil character.” One manifestation of this is setting the competitive bar height: If silly Dad can do this, I can too! Thus, my daughter became emboldened “If Dad can get into Berkeley, I should be able to. If Dad went to Stanford, I can get in!” And so she did.
The second part of this foil pedagogy is to encourage the questioning of authority, the challenging of positions. Ashley looks at what I’m doing, ponders whether that’s the best course, and makes her own decision – often in a contrary and better direction. This supports independent decision-making and heightened self-respect.
A final technique lies in the response to adversity as a means of building character. Even prone to hyperbole as young people are, it seems that the adjective "disaster!" frequently surfaces during recollections of our adventures together.
I’ve given her many opportunities to learn by these methods. On a camping trip over Memorial Day when she was a teenager, I assured her there would be no worry about snow. When we arrived, we had to park a half mile down the unopened, snow-filled road. “Plan for the unexpected.” I suggested we bushwhack a short cut to a hidden lake – walk right over the snow-covered brush. “Stay on a known path.” Once at said lake, I demonstrated survival skills. “Obtain water by using a rock to break through surface ice.” Lastly, there was the issue of my leaving some essential elements of camping food on the kitchen counter. “Plan complete meals in advance, and be sure they make it into the pack.”
Indeed, Ashley has learned better than I. No one who has backpacked with Ashley has ever gone hungry. She avoids bushwhacking, and snow camping. I, on the other hand, was just up in the Yosemite high country, early June, and guess what? Yup, snowed in.
A parent gets great pleasure from seeing his child doing things better. I began a flight training course at a local junior college but didn’t finish. Ashley took her ground course while still in High School. We went together on an introductory flight, and before long she had her pilot’s license. I was pleased to be her first official passenger.
When your children are young, you take them on trips, showing them the world. Now, I just tag along for the ride, with Ashley showing me her view of the world. Since she was a toddler, I’ve taken Ashley to Yosemite; yet I never climbed Half Dome – until she took me up a few years ago. It was her fifth time. She and some friends hiked the John Muir Trail recently – over 200 miles in three weeks. I met them atop Mt. Whitney for the last bit. It was the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done. They sauntered to the Whitney base, had burgers and beers, and wondered when Dad would show up – which I did, at dusk, utterly spent. “C’mon Dad! We’re going into town to get pizza with some friends from the Trail. You’re the designated driver!” It can be hard keeping up!
When I was in college, I did some skydiving, maxing out at 5,500 feet. Ashley rounded up some college friends and we all went out to Lodi for tandem jumping from 13,000. The rest of us were exhausted, traumatized and glad to be back firmly on the ground. Ashley shouted, “Let’s go up again!” I was relieved to hear the others declining.
We fathers love our children from the time they first arrive, through all the processes and experiences as they grow to adulthood and beyond. I love Ashley for all that shared living. I also respect her immensely and quite independently of our genetic relationship. For she is an amazing young woman in her own right: capable, accomplished, fun, and loving. I have delighted in watching her grow, sharing in her life. As she opens the door into a post-graduate world, I can’t wait to see where she goes next!
And by the way, did I mention that she’s my daughter?