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  • Jen Dunlap

Gratitude: To Grandad

Updated: Apr 5, 2019

To Grandad


Throughout my childhood and into my teen years, my grandpa was happy to answer my questions. He was retired, interested in everything, constantly reading or doing a project, trying something new.

When I woke up at 5 before anyone else, eager to chat through the morning, he shared his hot cereal and kindly sacrificed his quietest hour in the day. Before I turned 8, he made me add up the numbers to make my own times table, and then had me memorize it. He challenged me with mental math and explained estimation and how this should be used before a calculator. As a PhD in statistics, he explained how one can lie with numbers, charts and graphs, and explained standard deviation, median, and mean with simple examples. He gave me a sense of the trial and error involved the complex history of science, and encouraged me to look for the questions that no one was asking, and the assumptions no one questioned.

He told me I would be reading and learning my whole life, and I should plan on purchasing many books. He described the challenges of research and running his own business. He loved the quote that "no man is truly educated unless he can earn a living with his hands". He would say “If you ever get to choose between smart and lucky, pick lucky every time” and “The first rule of holes: when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. When someone was tactless, he would smile, raise his eyebrows, and remind us of the “first rule of holes”.

Later, when I was in college, I talked with him about majors. I was interested in science but it challenged me, and my Germans class was so easy I felt that majoring in a language wouldn’t even count.

“What’s wrong with easy?” he said. “What’s easy for you is hard for other people. Life is hard enough.” A little challenge was great, but he discouraged me from picking something that would be uphill all the way.

As college finished, I asked him about marriage. I was dating someone who said he wouldn’t want his wife to work. I had enjoyed my jobs in high school and college, and the proposition made me uncomfortable, but I wondered if I was being unreasonable. “What do you think about the wife working?”

“Why not?” he said “if she wants to. Money is useful. Work is satisfying.”

It clarified for me that this wasn’t a generational question, and I needed someone with a more pragmatic attitude. One of the first questions I asked the next guy was how he felt about me working.

“Why not?” he said. (We’re married now.)

I’m a little jaded about the “newest things” in health and medicine, because I know that if my Grandpa told me about this idea before I was 8, then it’s not new at all, and some lucky person has just repackaged it for the modern buyer.

Only as an adult have I fully seen how blessed I was by his candid answers to my questions, and his unusual approach to life. By encouraging me to question and learn, he enriched my life immeasurably. Thanks, Grandad!

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