Sunday, June 17, 2012

Fathering Children Through Our Research

To father implies insemination. First meaning in the dictionary: to beget; to sire. However, I like the later definitions: “to accept responsibility for”; “to care for or look after someone”. 

Research we do at Wilder Research fathers in that nurturing respect. Here, when we think of “research results”, our minds do not turn to reports with numbers; we don’t think of our many meetings and consultation with public officials and decision-makers who set policy and allocate funding; we don’t think of the speeches we give and the conferences we run. Those products and activities merely provide the means to a greater end.

The results we seek – and which inspire us to move forward – those are: the child who might have failed in school, but instead succeeds, because of something our research discovered; the older person who lives with dignity because of policies and programs that changed as a result of our studies of the aging; the homeless family who finds shelter; the immigrant boy or girl with options created through collaborative efforts by Wilder Research and other organizations.

I spent the Saturday of Father’s Day weekend, along with one of my sons, helping someone to build a screen porch addition on to her house. Such labor produces immediate, tangible, and satisfying outcomes. Spending the day on scaffolding, positioning the ridge board, hoisting and attaching rafters, driving nails, one by one, almost like processing bits of data.   It was an honest day’s work which converted a foundation into a structure.

It’s more difficult to see the outcomes of our activities to design studies, collect information, analyze that information, and present findings than it is to see the outcomes of cutting and fastening 2x4s and 2x6s. Research results do not manifest themselves at the end of a day of hard labor, albeit at a desk, a computer, or in a meeting room. Sometimes, it takes months or years to discern our impacts. But, in truth, those impacts have as much tangibility and endure as long as bricks and mortar – influencing the quality of life of this and future generations.

We build people and communities with our work. While I’ve fathered (in the procreative sense), and nurtured as best I could, five children (who, I hope, will all call their Dad today), it offers great satisfaction and brings tears to my eyes to think of the tens of thousands of children whom we have fathered (in the caring, nurturing sense) – and mothered too! – by fulfilling our mission at Wilder Research. Children who might not have had a home; children who might not have received care matched to their needs; children in poverty who literally might not have survived to become healthy adults – but for the effects of the studies that we carried out.

So to all who care for children – Happy Father’s Day!