This one is difficult. We lost my father a few weeks ago.
Dad was a retired professor, so notes of support poured from all over, sparkled with references to the important lessons he gave others: From our neighbor Daniel who told us how much he cherished the rides from school to his home, and the conversations in those rides; to the great-granddaughters that enjoyed his stories à la Disney -conclusion after fun; to the students that reverted to creativity to overcome the lack of resources to carry out research; to the farmers that learned to apply analysis to observations…
My father will probably be most remembered for his keen and contagious interest in figuring things out…
I had the fortune of spending Wednesdays with him, working on his book on Prtcryst (pretty crysts) which might not fascinate non-biologists the way it could fascinate biologists. Dad was intrigued by the origin of life and the fundamentals that provide a very fine line dividing life and unlife. “Life – I can almost hear him say – is the use and enjoyment of energy. A rock can be perceived as using energy, as it heats and cools, but it does not enjoy it.”
That was one of the first lessons I learned from my father: to be intrigued by life. Ever since I was a child, I would look up the sky and wonder why we are here. Later in life, I changed it to what is the lesson to learn, and much later, to what is our legacy. With Dad, it was always about discovering, diving deep, reflecting, connecting, understanding only to question again. Dad’s love for research was the second lesson I learned.
Researchers, like artists, are in a perpetual search for the truth – they search, then re-search, then re-re-search. Only that the truth for the researcher lingers somewhere out there, and the truth for artists bursts from the inside.
Then there was a lesson of dignity. Old fashion Dad was honorable, something we don’t hear much about these days. Dignity for women, as he had 4 daughters, was always a priority: “never ever accept anybody to treat you in ways that you don’t feel good“. So simple, and so clear. He always treated others with respect, a real challenge in today’s Venezuela, where he lived most of his life. “Never bow to others’ values, cultivate your own.” And gratitude… later in life, mostly blind and deaf, he would find ways to be grateful “I might not hear, I might not see, but I feel.”
But as I was recapping about the lessons learned from Dad, I also noticed that I had good lessons by omission: he was immersed in his research, I wanted to connect more. He had no interest in the business world, I wanted to be financially independent. These lessons by omission were the hardest to observe because they were hidden somewhere underneath the surface. Dad’s omissions taught me important lessons too.
As Dad graduates from life, I reflect upon his lessons, the ones he purposefully taught us and the ones taught by omission. And I share this with the hope that we can take the same process of learning to make the world a better place.