Monday, April 15, 2013

What's up, Doc?

This morning I had the pleasure of witnessing something truly incredible and awe-inspiring. I was at Montclair State University for a Ph.D. dissertation defense. At the end of the doctoral process, you write a dissertation. It is a 200+ page book of your research and findings that provides some sort of conclusion. The candidate spends about 30 minutes presenting the paper and an overview about all of it, then a panel of people that make up the approving body, or committee, for that candidate asks questions and make sure the findings are watertight. At the conclusion, they kick everyone out of the room, including the candidate, and confer. Then the candidate gets welcomed back in to be given the decision, followed by the audience. The candidate today was awarded a Ph.D. in Counselor Education.

When you look at the American population and consider how many people go to college (and finish) and then take a percentage of people that go on to graduate school for a Masters degree and then take an even smaller percentage of that small number to think about the Ph.D.'s out there, you realize that this is a momentous occasion. Then think about anyone you know who has achieved this feat and has the capability to write 200+ pages and spend a year researching a topic and consider the average age. What you don't expect is this person to be someone who has already retired from one profession (entirely unrelated) and redefined himself when most people are winding down from work and career and, most certainly, education.

One of the newest doctors in this country is my amazing father. There's more. He is part of the first cohort (class) of Ph.D.'s in this program at Montclair State University. He is the second person in his cohort to complete it. Additionally, this college (within the university) never had a Ph.D. program of any sort. That means that my dad and his colleague are the first two doctors from the College of Education and Human Services in Montclair State University... EVER!

For those that are wondering, his dissertation was quantitative about grief and loss in adults who lost siblings on September 11th, 2001. What he, and everyone around him, learned throughout his process was that there is LOTS of research about kids losing siblings and even more about bereaved adults in general and more than you could ever hope for about grief and loss overall. What there is nothing about is bereaved adult siblings specifically. That means that Dr. Viglione may have just created a new genre in the process.

Of the 4 member approval committee, one said his document was "beautifully written." A second shared the sentiment exactly, but added that it may be the most beautiful and well written dissertation she has ever read - and that was the committee chair. A 3rd wants this work to become a published book (beyond a published article in academic databases that it will become anyway). She also intimated that this could be a foundational document that spurs on further research and he becomes somewhat patriarchic in this particular topic. Finally, she'd like to see something else, but let me digress for just a moment (there's a reason for this). Most of you have heard of the 5 stages of death which became the 5 stages of grief. That model was created by Dr. Kubler-Ross. She came up with this theory and it became widely accepted so that it became a model from which people work. Back on topic, the core tenets of my father's research on the topic of adult sibling loss may have paved the way for him to have his own model. Imagine that - the Viglione model.

So, am I using my blog and readership to shamelessly plug and boast about the accomplishment of my dad? You bet your ass I am, but there's a takeaway. You just have to keep reading if you want to get it. For now, you have to hear a son ramble on and on because I was so amazed today. As a boy, my dad has always been someone I've looked up to. From teaching me to ride a bike to camping to other dad/son things, he's always been there to the Nth degree. When I skinned my knee from that bike riding, mom saved the day by patching me up, of course, but there are certain dad/son things and mom/son things. Boys don't often aspire to be moms. Over the course of dad's doctoral quest, our relationship has evolved. I edited the first 3 chapters of his dissertation for example. When I was younger and hating college he told me to stick with it for my future. When he was hating being his current age and in school with "young kids" I told him to stick with it because who gets to redefine themselves and have a 2nd career at this stage? Being away, I didn't get to watch him toil away, but I got to know it when he never answered the phone and mom would tell me he was locked away. I heard it in his voice. I heard it in her voice. He had the hard work of doing it, but she had the hard work of putting up with it.

And just when you think you're an adult and your dad is done being Superman, he goes and becomes a doctor. And he kicks ass at it. He stuns the people that have been doing it for decades already and reinvents a small corner of his particular industry. And in a 90 minute timeframe you go from being the closest you'll ever get to being a peer with your dad to looking up at him like the 5-year old that just watched him do something heroic again.

So here's the takeaway. Do it. Whatever "it" is to you. Do it. I don't mean school. I don't mean a doctorate. I mean whatever moves you. If he could work for 35 years as an investment banker (after getting a Bachelors in sociology), go back for a masters and a Ph.D. at his age (notice I haven't mentioned a number? you're welcome, dad); all to finally do what he's always wanted to do - then you can always do whatever it is that lights your fire. This isn't some wish upon a star and hope for the best stuff here. It takes hard work. It takes years of plugging away and hours locked in a room working, but it's always achievable.

Congratulations, Dad. You've achieved an amazing goal. I said congratulations today. I said it was awesome. It wasn't until I sat down and digested the events of today that I was able to really quantify the enormity of it and find the words. And when I did, I couldn't keep it in. I got told today, by someone you respect that you and I are cut from the same cloth and I couldn't think of a better compliment to receive. Watching today's events was a remarkable experience, Dr. Vincent S. Viglione!

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