In his last years, wrecked by Parkinson’s Disease, my father was often unable to talk, and when he did so it was in painfully short clips. He could no longer walk, and his hands shook so much he could barely feed himself.
Gone were the days of his science, his inquisitiveness, his robustness. He knew what was coming, for he had been diagnosed with the disease many years before, and to a scientist what you or I might not want to acknowledge he sought to understand.
He faced his fate with a resigned dignity, an understanding of what he couldn’t escape, just as he faced the reality of his work as a clinical nutritionist and researcher.
I never knew my father to be an overly emotional man, rarely if ever given to tears, although occasionally in his early years as a father he would have the consequential outbursts when one of us would go astray. His truest emotions he saved for my mother, with whom even in old age he would walk hand-in-hand down the street.
He was the consummate scientist, researcher and educator, more comfortable in his lab with his mice and his rats, more familiar with an electron microscope than with a paint brush or a baseball.
Even after he retired from the University of British Columbia, and even after he then taught nutrition to Japanese students in Hiroshima for half a dozen years, he continued to be captivated by science. One day he took me aside at home to show me a tank full of medaka fish or Japanese Rice Fish in his bedroom that he was breeding for some biological tests he was conducting. By then he was already in his late 70’s.
A few years after he died, we went through his things to try and close that door in our lives. The old shirts and pants and shoes went to the Salvation Army. His papers and photos we kept, of course. His biology books to his children. However, in a box he’d packed away before they moved out of the family house into the requisite condominium, I found some of the old tools of his science. His obsolete slide rule, which he told me he first bought as a graduate student in California; a small dissecting microscope; a carton of tubes and syringes and cups that he used for his medaka experiments, and his magnifying glasses.
These weren’t the kind of magnifiers Sherlock Holmes might hold up to his eye to get a closer inspection of some crime scene. These were similar to a watchmaker’s headband, but not as powerful. Inexpensive but thoroughly useful, they allowed him to have a clearer magnified binocular view of whatever he was looking at.
I picked them up and turned them over and over, contemplating how many experiments and discoveries he had witnessed through them. What had he watched? What new information had lit up the synapses of his brain as he examined his targets? What details were revealed that he otherwise would not have witnessed?
They were utilitarian grey, so typical of my father. The headband was well-worn, with the cushioning on the front cracked from the sweat of his brow. One screw was missing from the lens. I took them home and cleaned the dust and lint off the lenses and found a new screw. I tightened the headband and put them on.
The small worlds in front of me jumped out; the fine perforated edges of an old stamp in sharp relief, the dents of a ballpoint pen on paper where the cursive blue ink stopped long enough for me to cross a T; and finally, the bottom of a comb into which a queen had gently laid an egg.
All things my eyes, as good as they are, could not easily see any more. I was pleased. A gift from my father, long after he had died, so personal and so useful. And so appropriate for my work as a beekeeper. I can peer deep into those cells, even as dark as they sometimes can get from the multiplicity of spent cocoons that line their walls. If she holds still long enough, I can almost pick out single grains on a pollen-covered bee. And those pesky red crab-shaped mites are no match for my glasses; they are revealed as something more than tiny red dots on a larvae.
I suppose my father would be pleased too, knowing that his glasses, which brought the world closer to him, has brought me closer to him as well.