My dad failed a Rorschach test, but he turned out pretty well

I was thinking about my father when I woke up today. He wasn't a talker or a storyteller, so to understand him you had to watch what he did and listen carefully when he happened to say something.

When he talked, his tone didn't vary much. It was the words that mattered. He knew what they meant and used them precisely. (He spoke to a doctor once about getting some back pain while lying "prone." The doc, realizing that many people use the word incorrectly, said "So you were on your back?" Dad, mildly irritated, responded, "If I had meant that I would have said supine.")

After meeting someone he liked, Dad would often report back that the person was "cheerful."

He was a cheerful person himself -- I don't recall ever seeing him get really angry -- but since he wasn't expressive, many didn't understand how cheerful he was.

His yardstick in life was doing "useful" things.

By that measure he was wildly successful. In fact, he never really stopped. He was a perpetual motion useful-thing-doer. I didn't really consider this until one of my sister's boyfriends pointed it out. He wouldn't sit still for TV except one show, "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

In spite of all his output, many people didn't really "get" that he was doing so many useful things. He never bragged. My uncle used to say that when Dad described his role in a successful project, you had to multiply by four, or maybe ten.

In fact, many people who didn't know him well thought him incapable of doing useful things.

He participated in a psychological study for many decades. Every few years he would fill out a questionnaire and at longer intervals get interviewed by psychiatrists. When Dad was in his early twenties, they described him this way:
  • Rorschach responses are "rather inferior."
  • Has a "fundamental lack of ability to establish rapport with his fellow man."
  • Apparently does not have any creativity and would "work better under direction."
  • It's a good thing that he's going into research "in view of how little he could offer to teaching."
Funny thing, he went into teaching and did it for 40 or 50 years. By most accounts he was pretty good at it. His publication list is long and impressive, as is the roster of PhD chemists that he advised.

When dad was in his sixties or seventies, the folks running the study suddenly discovered this about him: "few men in the study met the criteria for successful aging with as close to a perfect score."

So, that was my dad.

In his honor on Father's Day today I have two goals. Be cheerful and do something useful.


  1. Beautifully written.

  2. I found this by chance. Really nice.