A father says to his daughter, “Congratulations! I heard the school is giving you a medal for your very good grades! When is the awarding?”
The girl smiles and replies, “That’s on Monday.”
The dad says, “I see. Why didn’t tell you me? I heard parents of awardees are invited.”
The daughter says, “You’re always away on a business trip anyway, and you weren’t around last time I got a medal. Mommy can come. It’s alright, Daddy.”
To a father who loves his daughter, this hurts. In the gut. His child no longer expects him to be around on important events.
How can the father explain to his child that he had to be away at work so he could send her to a good school? Is there an easy answer?
I once read an article by a businessman who said his responsibility to his business includes not only his responsibility to his family but also to the families of the people working for him. That sometimes he had to make personal sacrifices for the greater good.
Yes, we all make trade-offs. But when put like this, it implies that the end justifies the means. So is one end more important than another? Who determines it, the father or the child?
These questions will become even more important in the future. Driverless cars may one day have to choose between two pedestrians, one of which it can’t avoid – an old person or a child – which one will it save? Are life decisions impersonal? What if it was your mother or your child?
Life is more than an optimization equation. Will we let computers make decisions for us? Can humans truly isolate their feelings from an objective world?
We cannot, and should not, escape the human condition. To be fully human we have to throw ourselves at life, fully and unconditionally, and take what it throws back, including the difficult choices, the pain and suffering, the joys and happy memories, and make them part of our reality.
In his popular book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl wrote that one can find meaning and hope even in the most difficult circumstances, that this choice is the human freedom that cannot be taken away.
I wish I could simply wish a Hollywood ending for the father and his child, but life doesn’t give answers that easily. Yet as long as they stay engaged with life, there is hope. Sometimes the meaning of the dance hits us while we are dancing, and the picture emerges from the shadows when the light hits all the pieces of a stained glass window.
(Photo of the sculpture “Oblation” taken at the University of the Philippines.)
Oblation (n) – an offering, sacrifice.