Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Keeping Priorities Straight

In the Science Times today there was a discussion of Randy Pausch's last lecture. Dr. Pausch was diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, and there is a 95 percent chance he'll die within the next few months.

The story was all about how he was "keeping his priorities straight," by recording this last lecture for his three children, using it to give them advice, and turning down movie and documentary offers to spend more time with the kids.

Maybe only a relentless cynic could think to be critical of a dying man. But there was one paragraph in the Times story that weirded me out:

"Last fall, after doctors told him that he would probably have no more than six months of good health, Dr. Pausch stepped down from his academic duties and relocated to be closer to his family. But he decided to give one last lecture to a roomful of students and faculty members at Carnegie Mellon."

He had to quit his job to be closer to his family? I checked the story; he's not divorced or anything. He and his wife are married. And they have three small children. And he has a good sort of academic job; it's not like the family was going to go without.

I know how things get with work and family and all. But really, it's weird to take a guy whose career took on such importance that he had to live apart from his wife and three kids and say, well, here's a guy keeping his priorities straight.

At most you could say that here's a guy who got his priorities straight. No? Am I wrong?

One reason being a woman and a feminist is so exhausting is you can't help but read these things as if they were the other way around, and you can't help but compare. And I didn't even want to in this case. But really, if a woman took a job that required her to live apart from her three small children, and then was diagnosed with a fatal disease, and then moved back to be close to them, there is no way in hell the theme of the story would be "keeping priorities straight." The theme of that story would be something like, "I learned what really mattered. And it was too late!"

Also poignant. But very different.

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