Happy Birthday Dad

I am my father’s daughter.

When I was born, the story has it (I was a bit young, so have to go by the stories I was told), people asked what I looked like. The answer was “She looks like John spit up.”

I had a student ask this week how I became so good at statistics. I was a little surprised. Didn’t everyone grow up doing probability at the dinner table? Dad and I would solve problems like what’s the probability of getting a royal flush with just 5 cards. How does it change with 7 cards? Didn’t everyone else? When I had to come up with an example of how condensation worked in 8th grade, he almost disassembled the entire air conditioning system to show me.

Of course I went on to get a degree in engineering. I am my father’s daughter.

And Dad didn’t send flowers when he heard I was sick. Instead, I got a handcranked radio/flash light/cell phone charger. Dad knows me–say it with gadgets!

Well, for a lot of years, I was my father’s little girl. Dad sorta didn’t admit I’d passed the age of 6 for a lot of years. I sent him a picture of me in battle dress on the DMZ in Korea. I think I moved up to 8 years old with that one picture.

He was with me for my 40th birthday, but I still don’t think he’ll admit he has a child who’s over 40. That was the weekend when Tiger won the Master’s, so he’s allowed to pretend to be distracted.

Now, being my father’s daughter is not always a good thing. When I passed by signs advertising discounts at a local hair salon this week and immediately thought what fun it would be to have a perm now and go in and scare the hairdresser when I lose my hair next week, I didn’t need DNA analysis to tell me which gene carried that trait.

He knows when to call me on things. When I go to the track, I’ll call and tell him how much I’ve won. His next question is always, “And how much did you lose?”

As an engineer who moved into management, Dad didn’t suffer fools gladly. He’d tell stories of “those old fools who won’t retire.” Of course, I know to call him on things too–he was typically older than the people he complained about. I get a little of that from him.

He has simple advice on how to succeed in the business world. “I found I did much better on the job when instead of telling people ‘That’s bullshit’ when they came up with some damnfool idea I told them ‘That’s fascinating.'” (My apologies to everyone whose ideas I’ve called ‘fascinating.’)

And being his daughter’s father wasn’t always easy. Apparently, even as I was being born, the hospital didn’t answer his questions quickly enough and he almost got himself thrown out of the waiting room.

Dad didn’t quite know what to do with a liberated daughter all the time and we had a few days when we got to share the vocabularies we’d learned during our respective times in the Army. (Remember, for as much of a sweetheart as I am now, I was a snotty kid. Yeah, the sweetheart part is sarcastic, but Dad knows that.) He’s gotten much better and delights in talking to new people about his kid who was in the service and has a PhD in computing. He especially likes when he finally lets them know that kid is female.

Now, we’re a fairly subtle family. Dad didn’t spend a lot of time lecturing me about living right. Instead, he read me The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss. (In my memories, he read to me nightly from it for years. Probably not true, but nice memories, so I’m gonna keep ’em.) If you’ve never read it, you must. It’s full of life lessons on prejudice, compromise, living through fears, and why you shouldn’t name your children all Dave. (I probably should read The Pale Green Pants again before my next chemo session. Maybe I can get Dad to read it to me.)

We don’t get together every Thanksgiving or Christmas for some big traditional thing, but when Mom was dying (years after Mom and Dad were divorced), I got on the phone to Dad and just cried and he was there the next day. I know whatever I need, I can get from Dad. (How’s that cure for cancer coming, Dad?)

Looking back, one of the things I’m happiest about in life is that Dad and I have become such great friends. And how I realize that being my father’s daughter is a pretty special thing.

So, happy birthday Dad.



  1. esmail said

    hey dr. white,

    you have quite a knack for writing, i never quite realized that
    until reading your blog fairly regularly.

    how about posting a scan of your pic in the DMZ? i had wanted to
    see one of those for along time.

  2. Kelly said

    I wonder what percentage of female computer scientists are “their father’s daughters” so to speak… or perhaps I should say what percetage of female computer scientist “like us” are. To this day, I don’t think I’ll ever forget those CS women at CCSSC telling me I wasn’t normal. 🙂

  3. Nathan Moore said

    No Kelly, you and Dr. White are not normal. Both of you are normal++.

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