Before my father died, before his mind started to fail him, and matters like this were no longer of consequence to his rapidly condensing world, he asked me, “If you had it to do all over again, would you make the same choices?” I never offered him a very good answer.
It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in my pathway; I simply wasn’t any good at defending it.
Once a source of frustration to my father, my academic career, unexpectedly to us both, became one of great pride to him, as his son, once an admittedly immature and adrift undergraduate of little academic note, worked toward his PhD 25 years later. One of my regrets about this otherwise glorious journey of graduate education is Dad won’t be there to see it end.
I thought about his question last week as I watched English professor David Bentley deliver the second address in the President’s Lecture Series. Following his prepared remarks, Bentley was joined on stage by English and Writing Studies professor and Department Chair Bryce Traister, Western English alumna Liz Nash and CBC Radio host Paul Kennedy, in a sort of ‘amen chorus’ for arts and humanities education.
It was a warm, cozy discussion, one full of rich leather and affirmation for the life’s path chosen by those on stage and by many of us in the audience. There were no surprises, no daring darting off script by Bentley to recant his life’s work in a cascade of tears and loud cries of “I should have been an actuary!”
As was pointed out to me by a friend and colleague, perhaps dropping a naysayer into the mix would have made it more fun. Say, where’s Kevin O’Leary when you need him?
But there was a moment, a personal moment, ever so brief, when Bryce answered Dad’s question better than I ever did:
“It’s less about what you study, than it is about the person you become as a consequence of your studies. It’s less about being able to do well on an exam, and more about the person you step into being as a consequence of studying and mastering something that you care about, that you’re passionate about.”
What wonderful words for those worried about what the world – or simply their family – will think of their choices.
I know exactly what my father wanted to know when he asked me, “If you had it to do all over again, would you make the same choices?” Would I take the same approach, the same attitude, the same course of studies? Would I have tried harder, focused earlier, picked a line of study more suited to a linear future career? Would I have played it safer?
When I told him I wanted to write, my accountant father pictured poverty. When I said I wanted to be a journalist, he pictured poverty with an attitude. The only words of warning I remember from him were this, “There is no money in poetry.”
I know the route I chose, as occasionally meandering as it has been, has led me to a life filled with people I love and cherish while pursuing a passion I first discovered while reading on my father’s lap.
I am truly a ‘consequence of my studies.’ And I would have it no other way.