Thursday, September 13, 2007

Column on the importance of being a Dad

First things come first

By: Patrick Beeman

Posted: 8/30/07

As a second-year medical student, I feel obliged to reflect on my last-ever summer break.

While most of my friends spent the summer researching cures for cancer or shadowing doctors, as soon as first year ended, I spent five glorious weeks at Officer Training School with the United States Air Force. Think of it as bootcamp for doctors, lawyers and clergy. Not that it was easy because it wasn't. I finished with the pride of being a military officer, even though while I was there, I only got three hours of sleep per night.

After boot camp, I came back to good old Toledo and began some intensive writing. My efforts paid off with forthcoming publications in "Our Sunday Visitor," "Touchstone," "This Rock," and the journal of the "Catholic Medical Students Association."

Despite the writing efforts, my family and I managed a vacation to Nashville, Tenn., where I am proud to say I listened to not one note of country music. During our stay, I was selected for a prestigious fellowship with Edmund Pellegrino, Chairman of the president's council on bioethics. I was floored! I mean, this guy is the president's adviser on medical ethics. I met Pellegrino a few weeks ago in Georgetown where we decided to plan my research project for the year. Believe it or not, you who cringe at the word because you think it doesn't extend far beyond having a nice haircut, properly fitted clothes and being punctual, but I am actually going to write on "professionalism."

So this, my last summer, was all in all rather productive. But the most important thing I did had nothing to do with medicine, little to do with the intellect and hardly anything to do with pedantry (which will be surprising to those who know me). And no, it was not convincing my sister-in-law to come to UT so she could baby-sit while my wife and I go out (hey, she'd be able to do her laundry for free). Lauren, call me.

My most worthwhile endeavor was spending time with my kids. Of course, now every night, my daughter insists on going to the "parking lot" (or "playground" for those of you who do not speak Evvy).

Fatherhood is not a very intellectual affair, but it is certainly a learning experience, especially when approached consciously and with due awareness of the gravity of the responsibility. A whole curriculum of philosophy, theology, art, literature and science could be had from interaction with a child under two.

Take, for example, philosophy and the meaning of life. "Evvy, honey, right now Daddy's got to go study the anti-microbial properties of mucous membranes." With a quizzical stare, she asks, "Why?" Hmm, I never thought of it that way. What seems so urgent and pressing may not be as important as making the love of your life know that she is. Of course this is a principle which applies especially to the parent-child relationship, but is applicable to the whole gamut of familial and other properly human relationships.

We spend so much time pouring ourselves into achieving one more percentage point on a test or doing better than our peers. Yes, good grades in medical school or anywhere are important. But will you still be proud of that Honors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology when your spouse, parent or child asks you in 10 years why you never had half an hour to prove that, as John Paul the Great said, the family is the only institution on earth in which a person can be loved for who he is, not for what he does?

Those words fall on deaf ears and bear no weight when those around you see your relentless action in pursuit of being loved simply in relation to whatever it is you're trying to achieve. School loves those who "get good grades." Jobs love those who "get things done." Those who do not perform are excised like a malignant tumor.

But in the rhythm of a vibrant and authentic family life, wherein we learn to love and be loved, there is nothing one can do to be loved more or less.

This summer, I learned that I cannot be a good doctor, let alone a good person, if I do not live in accord with the hierarchy of the way things ought to be. To this end, I might not be number one in my class, but I'll be number one to my daughter.
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1 comment:

  1. Patrick - Your growth is exponential compared to everyone else's! Let's talk soon (when I recover my phone)! I'd love to see the latest pics of Evvy and her bro.
    - sesha (bridge builders was an old blog attempt for a student group .. i can't seem to get rid of it!)