21 September 2018
My father was born in Ceylon in the 1930s, but he had no sense of the place or time he landed on this planet. He was always immersed in books -philosophy, the classics and his beloved biology- and he had little regard for the social norms that were simply invisible to him.
My father got his PhD in Biology at Oxford University, at Christ Church College, in the 1950s. When my son asked him about Oxford, my father - one of the few non-whites there - did not comment on the prestige of Oxford, or the lack of diversity. That was not my father’s style. He was unfailing honest, so he talked about what mattered to him: how, as a poor student, he was able to buy so many of his beloved books at second hand stores and how he had his first sexual relationship there. Yes. That is what he said. That sealed the deal for my son - he was going to university.
My father was born into a wealthy family, one of a long line of doctors and scientists. Growing up in Ceylon, a country with a rigid social stratification, he had a servant whom he chatted with and respected. My father took him on collecting trips and was amazed at his fine mind. We knew him only as ‘Dr. Johnson’ because that is what my father called him. Whenever we returned to Ceylon, Dr Johnson would accompany my father on his collecting trips and lectures. It was not until I was older that I realized that Dr Johnson was not a professor and he was different than the famous scientists that I often met. Dr. Johnson had no qualifications - not even a high school diploma - and as an adult I found out that my father had given him some family land, helped him build a house and sent him money every month to allow him to educate his children and live a life of ideas. ‘Social justice’ wasn't in my father’s vocabulary - he just did what he felt was right. Whether he was sitting with Maasai in the plains of Africa, or world famous scientists in the halls of a university, he was the same - it was people that he loved and he remained blind to the differences that others saw.
He fell in love with my mother, and stayed in love with her for 62 years. In my mother he found someone as oblivious of norms as he was: she was an MD/PhD with a passion for Parasitology. My father - with his eyes on science - missed the chauvinistic memos of the 1950s. In my mother he saw a mind that he thought was finer than his. He supported her through her career. He also felt he was a better cook, so he cooked for her all his life, leaving her free to do her work. He supported and fought for many women in science in his lifetime - it was their minds, not their sex, that he focused on and championed.
He took our family around the world, through Africa, South East Asia, the Americas and Europe. He felt at home wherever he was, as long as he could talk bugs and fish, eat good food and share stories and laughter.
Deeply moved by democracy and fairness, my father had no tolerance for political despots. I know this not from what he said but from what he did. He took our family - often at young ages - through dangerous countries in search of fish and bugs. He faced men with machine guns and machetes with equal calm. He had a job to do and we simply went with him. Nothing speaks of his boldness as well as when he was in Singapore, on his way to the Philippines. We were not with him but called to tell him that the Philippines was in the middle of a coup. He said: If I stopped my work for every coup, I would never get anything done. My father felt strongly that political despots, dictators, and even civil war, were transient. Science, that careful, meticulous work of men and women around the world, that is what would endure and he would do his small part to contribute. Looking back - he was right. The despots are now dead or overthrown. The work of the men and women of science has lived on.
My father’s sense of fairness, and his support of my mother, occasionally made his life miserable. We were traveling during his sabbatical year, were in Malaysia, and my mother asked my father to bring some samples from chickens when he visited Burma (now Myanmar). In my father’s mind, if you took anything you paid. So, he offered to pay to collect chicken feces - chicken shit -in an isolated village. As he was depositing samples into carefully labeled bottles of formaldehyde, he looked up to see many villagers, all carry bags, some of them in various states of degeneration, all filled to the brim with various animal feces. The word must have gone around the village that there was an odd man paying for shit. My father could see how poor these people were and so he did what few people would do - he left with his biological van filled with shit and his wallet empty. He told us this story over a meal, coupled with laughter.
Oddly, for a man of science, one thing my father would never accept is the death of people he cared about. He refused to go to any funeral. Ever. He simply could not bear it.
My father taught me to eat a good meal with people I care about and find a good book to read - every day of my life. He taught me to find every person, in every country, as comfortable as home. He understood - ahead of his time - that the world is a very small place. He taught me that chauvinism and racism are to be ignored in the face of larger, more important pursuits.
Unlike my father, I do go to funerals and I will go to my father’s funeral - my second this year. Why? Because my father - literally - gave me the world.
18 June 2012
by Jan Grape
I do remember him visiting me when I was six years old. I was living with my grandmother in Houston, TX at the time. My mother was working at an aircraft factory, Consolidated, in Fort Worth and it was very difficult to have and take care of a small child with the hours she worked. My grandmother and her husband lived ten miles from the city limits of Houston on a dirt road. One day, a yellow taxi drove up to our house and a tall, lean man in an Army uniform got out of the car. It was my dad. He was home on furlough and wanted to see me. I was just getting over chicken pox and I got so excited that my red-spots seemed to pop out again. Of course it was just the excitement.
My step-father has been gone since 1995 and I miss him a lot.. He and I had a lot of problems during my teen age years but I think that's fairly normal. Teenagers are an alien species as I have mentioned before. Charlie had a lot of little sayings, like "I ain't had so much fun since the hogs at my little brother." Don't ask me to explain that one. And the standard when I asked him for money was, "If money was germs, I'd be as sterile as St. Vincent's hospital." You get the picture. One saying he had that stayed with me all these years was "There are two things in this world that can't be beat. One is a good education and the other is a good reputation." Those are words to live by for sure. I miss you and love you, Daddy.
My dad has been gone for twenty-four years and I miss him almost daily. Immediately after I graduated from high school, I moved to Fort Worth to live with my dad and step-mother. I graduated from school on Friday night and started to X-ray school on Monday morning. And during all those year afterwards I spent a lot of time with them and we grew very close. We made up for all the years we had not been together. I'm very glad he got to know my late husband, Elmer. They were alike in many ways and they were close too.
My dad loved to read and he had scads of books, mostly mysteries. Mostly private-eye mysteries and from the time I was about 12 years old and visiting my dad in the summer, he was handing me books by Mickey Spillane and Richard S. Prather and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was in heaven reading their books. Of course they were hard-boiled and womanizers (well, Perry Mason wasn't but Donald Lam was) but I just loved the style of writing these guys wrote and enjoyed the mystery plots. I decided then and there if I ever did learn to write it would definitely be mysteries and mostly likely private-eye stories. And most of my short stories did feature my female PIs Jenny Gordon and C.J. Gunn.
One major thing my dad taught me was, to do what you love. And if you can make a living at that, you're ahead of the game. That's true. I loved being in the medical field, but my unspoken dream was to write and be published. I'm really glad my dad lived long enough to read many of my short stories. He died before my novels were published but I'm sure where ever he is, he's read them as I wrote them.
The other big thing my dad taught me is that you can't live in the past with regrets. And you just can't wallow in guilt about mistakes you made. And he didn't mean not to acknowledge your mistakes, but learn from them. Everyone fails at some things and that's the way you learn how to succeed. This is very true in writing too (you thought I never would get to the point about writing didn't you?).
The only way to ever learn to be a better writer is to keep writing. When someone who knows about writing and is willing to pay you for writing gives you a critique or suggestion about your writing, then pay attention and learn. Few people are born with enough talent to be a good writer. However, you can learn how to write and how to write very well, but you have to learn from your mistakes.
Actually all the great writers that I know were not "born" writers. They were just persistent and willing to learn the craft and then learn the business or lean on someone who could guide them to the right way to become published.
So today, I say, Happy Father's Day to my dad, Thomas Lee Barrow. I love you and I miss you.