Father’s Day Far From Home

Grand_Teton_Natl_ParkWhile my writing over at, along with the usual end-year chaos that characterizes every classroom at this time of the year, have kept me too preoccupied to share my thoughts in this space very much, track-out break is here and so is some time to write for me.

The right combination of opportunity and inspiration hit me today as I was riding back from a four-day vacation with my family (and my in-laws) in Grand Teton National Park outside Jackson, Wyoming.  After flying out to their house in Utah, we drove up in a three-car caravan to some of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring land in the entire world.  Between being disconnected from civilization (I can’t believe I survived four days with no Edge/3G/WiFi!), being surrounded by my wife’s family, and traveling with two young children, this has been a unique opportunity to break from my usual habits and reflect on my life.

On top of these conditions, it is Father’s Day as I write this on the descent down Highway 89 from Jackson Hole.  Sure, it’s an artificial commercialized holiday designed to sell greeting cards and fishing poles, but it has also been pretty successful at making all of us think more about the role of male parents.  Perhaps that’s why I find myself considering the impact of my father on who I am today, and my own affect on my son’s development.

A recent review in the LiveScience blog pointed out that in 95% of mammal species the male parent never even meets his offspring.  We humans are a rare exception to this rule–an exception with a purpose.  While, like most biologists, I am leery of distancing our species from others in our Kingdom, it is also clear that our self-awareness makes us unique.  There are so many reasons that we have become the dominant species on the planet, and biology is only one of them.  But still, our parental tendencies and the role of fathers in the rise of Homo sapiens can’t be inconsequential.  We don’t carry the extensive library of instinctual behaviors that related species possess.  With fatherhood comes the responsibility of teaching and nurturing positive behaviors in our children.  It’s a gift and a burden that some lesser members of the species choose to neglect.

Next weekend, three generations of men in my family will be together as my father, myself, and my son all spend a few days together.  I know that I’ll be more cognizant of the lessons I’ve learned from my dad and the ones I am teaching my son.

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