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My Father, the Radio Astronomer

What it's like to be Galileo's Daughter

By Susan Eileen Published 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 6 min read
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My Father, the Radio Astronomer
Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

My father was one a kind. I know millions of people feel the same way, but with a father that was a radio astronomer, an intrepid explorer and my biggest fan; it's hard to feel any other way. He was so ahead his time in every way. Although the world will remember him for work on quasars (do a Google Search on William A. Dent, Radio Astronomy and you will find he he is semi-famous in the world of physics and astronomy), I will remember him most for being both caring and daring. His biggest impact on my life, however, will be his undying support and how he helped me see the world without prejudices. I've been told that I'm adventurous, goal-minded and and the least judgemental person you will ever meet.

First, I'll brooch the topic of his work. As a graduate student at the University of Michigan, my father had made the amazing discovery that the brightness of what were called quasi-stellar radio sources (quasars) varied with time. Many years later we have learned that quasars contain supermassive black holes, often with masses of billions of times the mass of our Sun. At this point in time, quasars are now called active galactic nuclei. There is always evolution of thought in the field of astronomy. He was a thought leader and scientific expert that could back up his claims with his data collection through his observations made through telescopes.

He went on to become a tenured Professor of Astronomy at UMASS where he was a key founder. At UMASS, he went on the coach the first black astronomer to graduate from UMASS. The life of a tenured profeessor at this time was a dream come true for many. The school year was only thirty weeks long, which left plenty of time to travel both with and without his family. The fact that he was away from his family to observe the universe did lead to my parent's divorce, but their divorce was amicable and he provided both emotional and financial support throughout our childhood years and beyond. It wasn't ideal, but divorce never is.

As an intrepid explorer, he found himself climbing Mount Everest - only to base camp, but still. He was fascinated with that area of the world and would travel to Tibet to teach children to read. He even went to the USSR during the height of the Cold War. To this day, I can only guess why he went, but he wanted to see every corner of the world, whether it was politically correct or not. He also loved Cuba; he said for a communist country, it was lively and enjoyable. As you can imagine, it did hurt my image at school that he would travel to communist countries, but we all have our crosses to bear.

One year, he and I took a road trip. We flew from Cleveland, Ohio to Sacramento. Once in California, we did a road trip down to Houston, Texas, where I caught a flight back to Cleveland. The funny part of catching that plane, is that there are two airports in Houston, and we went to the wrong one. However, in 1982, not a single plane landed on time ever, so we still caught the flight home even though we arrived at the second airport an hour late. On this road trip, we visited the Winchester House of Mystery, which is quite captivating. The Winchester House is allegedly haunted by the ghosts of those killed by Winchester rifles. We also drove through Carmel Valley and much later we walked along the river in San Antonio. It was the trip of a lifetime.

However, the most interesting part of the trip was meeting the people that work at SETI. SETI stands for the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The scientists at SETI listen to radio waves coming in from the universe, day in and day out, listening for potential signs of life. This was 1982. I wonder what has been found since. I'm sure it's classified. I saw other interesting work when he worked at NASA to find the center of the galaxy. It was groundbreaking when he helped to discover black holes are at the center of galaxies, but it's common place knowledge now.

I had a childhood full of experiential education, a childhood of looking at the stars and learning the constellations. The constellations are important as the images attached to the star pattern came with a story. A story told by generations of early people and Native Americans. When certain constellations rise, it is time to plant. When certain constellations set, it is time to harvest. The elaborate storytelling of a constellation insured it's survival from one generation to the next, so that crops will be efficiently planted and harvested to ensure the survival of the population.

The same is true for the impact of lunar cycles. During a full moon, human activity is up, probably because early man used the light of the moon to hunt animals that slept. Further, there are many superstitions surrounding various eclipses, full moons and planets in retrograde.

I was encouraged to play in the mud and draw and catalog the plants in the backyard. We would go scouring for rocks and fossils to have the perfect collection. But those were the days that you left in the morning to explore a quarry and not come back until the street lights were on. It was a different time, it was a glorious time. The unexpected canoe rides as a family and rock climbing on rock ledges left behind from Pangea were always a good time too.

But one of his notable achievements, is not financial, or professional. He and my mother were very active in the civil rights movement in the sixties. He loved hanging out in Harlem during his tenure at the University of Columbia. My mother went on to befriend a Jewish woman with a black husband and a black child. This is so commonplace now, it may seem weird that I'm mentioning it, but having these relationships in the sixties was quite avant garde. And it instilled me in a very early age to never discriminate period. It truly is a great way to live - to live without those filters of made-up hate for minority populations. I still can't believe some of those attitudes exist today. It's been sixty years since the Civil Rights Movement. The rest of the world needs to get on board.

But with all his achievements, success and role modeling, my house was a difficult one to grow up in. My mother was a single mother in the 1970's. Pretty unheard of at this time. I didn't have the same quality unbringing as my older brothers did. I did end up "unexpectedly" pregnant at 19. I was terrified to tell my father. After all, he wanted me to attend an all-girls university so I could marry well, I suppose. When I finally told him, he hugged me tight and told it was the happiest he had ever been in his life. He couldn't wait to have grandchildren. As you can imagine, a man that has the intelligence to solve mysteries of the universe, is about as cuddly as Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory. Happiness with a genius level that high is hard to come by as well. His intelligence was as much of curse as it was a blessing.

Right now, I wish I had catalogued all his artificats and stories from around the world, but although I was as inspired as Gailileo's daughter, I was not that obsequious. Right now, I wish I had had more time with him. Right now, you should reach out to your father and record those stories that will disappear one day. It is my biggest regret right now, that I always thought I had more time.

I thought there would be more road trips, I thought there be dinners out and more intellectual conversation. I just thought there would be more..but I have plenty of good times to remember, probably more so than most. Happy Father's Day Dad, where ever you are. You were always one to shoot for the stars - I hope you made it.

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About the Creator

Susan Eileen

If you like what you see here, please find me on Amazon. I have two published books under the name of Susan Eileen. I am currently working on a selection of short stories and poems. My two published books are related to sobriety.

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Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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