Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where You Have Been

My father's most significant bookwas published twenty-five years ago. To celebrate, the publishers released a new edition and the professional organization of which he has been active for many years held a special session during its annual conference to honor his contribution.

This particular annual conference has been important to my father for almost fifty years.  He has even served as the organization's president. And as he says, Dad has even given his two children to the profession.  Both my brother and I are in the same field of academic study.  This conference is always a family reunion for us.

Unfortunately, Dad has been quite sick for the last two annual conferences. In the fall of 2006, we wondered if he would be able to attend at all, ever again. After a diagnosis of cancer followed by a complication-ridden treatment period, this year Dad was able to return this year in full and healthy glory.

He participated in several sessions honoring living presidents of the organization and remembering influential historians who died this year. This kind of personal relationship-based story-sharing is definitely one of my father's strongest suits. But he also was active in the academic scholarship side of the conference--something he really has not been able to participate in the same way in recent years. It clearly brought him great joy, but I think it meant even more to his friends.

The meeting was a homecoming--and a goodbye--all wrapped into one.

During the session about his book, Dad laughed and said that one always hopes that any acknowledgment of lifetime achievement is premature.

He also said that after listening to other academics laud the book he wrote and praise the impact his scholarship has had on the field for the past three decades, he felt a bit like Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral.

Dad ended his comments saying he wanted to be able to say, like Tom Sawyer, "I ain't dead yet; I was only off being a pirate!"

And just as Tom's Aunt did, we all laughed and cried and hugged him, hoping to hold on to him for a long time coming.

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