Sunday, June 15, 2008

Unforeseen Contingencies on Father’s Day

Time out for one of those rare personal posts.

My father died on 23 April of this year. It was sudden and unexpected, but not a surprise. He was quite elderly, and while in excellent shape, he had an aneurism that we all knew would eventually do him in. He’d lived with it for something like 15 years; the surgeons said they could fix it, but he such had a difficult time recovering from even minor surgery that he and my mother both guessed that he would not survive the surgery. And so they chose to do nothing - a good choice, as he lived well beyond his life expectancy. When he died, it was very fast. He suddenly collapsed, and it was over in less than an hour. As he lay dying, he and my mother reaffirmed their love for each other, and then, true to form, he began cracking jokes about the situation.

So this is the first Father’s Day I’ve experienced without being able to at least telephone my father. I’m thinking of him, of course, and this has me reflecting on what I learned from him. There are many things I could say, but one thing is always foremost on my mind. My father was an M.D., and from the very earliest, even before I was in school, I remember meeting people who would say to me "little boy, did you know your father saved my life?" It was no joke; they were serious. Dad was an otorhinolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) was frequently called to the emergency room for a serious bleeding or breathing problem. I grew up thinking that is was normal for my father to occasionally save someone (and also knowing that he wasn’t always successful). Even at his funeral, a woman came up to me, crying, and told me her son apologized for not being able to come, and then told me a gripping story how many years before, her son had been in the ER, and his regular doctor had given up on trying to save him. My father was called, performed a tracheotomy, and, and as she put it "saved my son, and our family. We didn't realize how close it was at the time; your father came and talked with us after the operation and said everything was fine. It was only later we learned how close it had been."

What did I learn from all this? I grew up thinking it was normal to try to make things better than you find them, and that it is possible to accomplish rather remarkable things. I also had the highest appreciation for knowledge, and for ability. These things remain with me.

I cannot resist lapsing into an economics lesson: A number of us have lost our fathers. But what they’ve given us lives on. I hope for my readers that it’s good. The thing we should all do is take the good, and build on it. Anything bad, let it go by the wayside. This is the fundamental engine of economic growth, the intergenerational acquisition of capital, human and otherwise, but especially human. Never mind the mischief and damage perpetrated by our leaders. Our job is to build on the legacy we’ve received, from our parents, and their parents, and from others, and make the world better than it was when we entered it.

Happy Father’s Day.

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