I am on a plane, in the last hour of forty-four without seeing or hearing or smelling my daughter. So my wife is in the last hour of forty-four without my help. Already, I sense the strain in the syntax of her text messages. Even with my mother-in-law to help, my wife needs--deserves--a break. They both do.
Forty-four hours is about one half of one percent of the time I will spend away from them once I leave. Forty-four hours is about two and a half percent of the time I have left with them before I board another plane to Dominica to do research on the families that migrant workers leave behind.
No, it's more. After all, I don't spend every hour with them. In fact, I spend less than forty-four hours each week in my daughter's presence, accounting for daycare, sleep, and extra work hours. And I only have 11 weeks left here in Seattle.
It's the last fifty minutes now, and I'm trying to estimate on a Virgin Airlines cocktail napkin the small probability that my research in Dominica will have a measurable, positive impact on the lives of the people who will become my neighbors for a year. Then I weigh that discounted effect against the tiny net effect, possibly negative, of one father's absence from one child during one of the most crucial years of a single human's life history. Later on, I'll give you a taste of these back-of-the-envelope calculations, but I don't want to do that before I do a post on the practice and peril of extrapolating population-level studies to individual-level outcomes...especially when the individuals are members of your own family.
Okay. I'm going to be brutally honest with you about my work as a social scientist and a graduate student, who basically is paid to think and learn. Here it is:
Most of the time, I feel like a pretentious fraud. The same kind of pretentious fraud that makes blue collar workers bristle. And yes, the same kind of pretentious fraud that Florida Governor Rick Scott repudiated in his recent and misguided rhetoric against my academic discipline, anthropology. Because for every path breaking piece of social science that may revolutionize our perspectives and policies about a salient social issue (like how to curb the tremendous waste of perfectly good food in the United States or using evolutionary theory to better understand the psychology underlying religious terrorism) there is so much drivel that only three people will read.
When my thoughts turn dark about the very real damage my year away might do to my family, however supportive they are; turn dark about the possibility that thousands of taxpayer dollars may be wasted on my study because I happened to get lucky and am a half-decent writer; turn dark about all the other potential uses of my slightly greater-than-average intellect...another part of me brightens. For all that taxpayers have invested in me, for all the multiples of forty-four hours I will not spend with my wife and daughter, for every dollar of present income I forego in pursuit of an uncertain future for myself and my ideas, I must bust my ass that much more to broaden the impact of my current research.
I look forward to updating about my progress on that front, and hope that my outreach through this blog will play some role in it. So welcome to My n of 3.