5 Things about Skepticism I learned from my Dad

It’s Father’s Day. I thought it would be fun to share a few things that my Dad taught me and how they made me the skeptic I am today:

  1. Understand the perspective of the people you are talking to. It is invaluable in communicating your own point. My dad was with the foreign service and so every 2-3 years, he was posted to a new place. He never knew where he’d have to go, what the schools or medical facilities would be like. But he and my mom made the decision early on to keep their kids with them through their travels. It wasn’t always easy but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Moving from culture to culture taught me to adapt and it taught me to see the world through other people’s eyes. Today, that talent helps me every day. Even if I don’t agree with someone, the ability to understand where they’re coming from helps me discuss issues and communicate my own perspective much more effectively.
  2. Never stop learning. My dad is in his seventies now. He never ceases to amaze me. Unlike many others in his generation, the Internet doesn’t scare or confuse him. No, he has embraced the information age fully. He tells me that when he was a kid, reading material was scarce. They would go to their local library and maybe get a new book every month and then devour any new information they could as soon as they had it. Today, it’s like his DSL connection has given him a feast and he hardly knows where to start. He is on top of every major technological, political and social development. He somehow manages to stick his head into the giant chasm of nonsense that is the internet and filter out all but the relevant information. Admittedly, this fascination with technology coupled with his inability to turn down a free offer means that he also has a tendency to accumulate vast quantities of spam and viruses but he’s even getting better about that. And I love* helping fix his computer. No really. I do :)
  3. No matter who you are, education is important. Dad used to make us recite our multiplication tables. We had to know them forward, backwards and randomly. When school was out for the summer, we would have to get our school books for the next year early so we could get a head start. Dad would give us tests, check our homework, push us to go above and beyond. I was always an above-average student but only just; my eldest sister was the straight-A, super-smart, never got anything under 100 student. But between her and my parents, I learned that even if I had to work twice as hard, it was worth it to get the education. It taught me to love to learn and to always push myself to do better.
  4. Reading is a gift. It always astonishes me when people talk about kids not reading anymore and how great books like Harry Potter are because at least it’s making kids read. It’s not that I disagree with the idea, it’s just that I can’t wrap my mind around the concept of not wanting to read. For us, reading for pleasure was a treat. It was something we were allowed to do if we had been good and gotten our ‘real’ work done. To this day, I am a book addict and I usually have three or four books ‘in progress’ at any given time.
  5. The world is full of wondrous things. I saw the world because of my dad. I went on safari in Africa, shopped in bazaars in Hong Kong, went to rodeos in New York and lay on beaches in Trinidad, all before my 18th birthday. Not to mention meeting people like Carl Sagan, Nelson Mandela and Harry Belafonte. When I left home to go to college in the States, I never worried about the plane trip or how to handle a new country or new people. I had acquired those skills a long time ago. I still had a lot to learn but I knew one thing: seeing the world and getting more experiences is one of the most important things a person can do. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that it’s not just about broadening your horizons. It’s about blowing them away. There is nothing like travel to get you out of your comfort zone and learning something new. It’s cool, it’s fun and it’s important.

I could probably write another thousand words about the impact my dad had on my skepticism and on my life. He’s always been a role model and a guide. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been somewhat surprised to find that he’s also become a friend. I am grateful every day for him.  It’s Father’s Day. Tell me what your dad did to influence your life. Tell me what sort of a dad you want to be for your kids. It’s Love on Dad day at Skepchick. Go at it!

* For a restricted definition of ‘love’


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. It probably goes without saying that meeting Carl Sagan = everyone who reads this site is insanely jealous of you but I will say it anyway.

  2. My dad was a diver and I remember holidays as a kid messing about by the sea and being allowed to stay up after my normal bed time to watch Jacque Cousteau on the BBC2 programme ‘The World About US”. It is probably what started me off on the road to nature, science and a naturalistic world view.

    Unfortunately life did not turn out as he hoped and he has not coped well. Although our lives have grown apart, I know we still share those memories from a time when our family was together, and life made more sense to him.

  3. Great stuff Maria, thanks for sharing some of your history. My wife’s father was a medical director for the UN mission in Hong Kong and my wife lived with her parents there and traveled around S.E. Asia and China with her parents during her teenage years. Those years had an incredible impact on who she is and led to a masters in cross cultural communication and a career as a college prof teaching communications and classes in storytelling from different cultures.

  4. My Dad was a radio news director in Cincinnati, like Les Nessman but in real life. He taught me how to ask questions doggedly and to check and doublecheck my facts. He also taught me how to catch a million fireflies, make a wiffleball dance like a butterfly on speed , and how to laugh as loud as I needed to. Man I miss him… Happy Fathers day Edsel Fairbanks… wherever you are…

  5. Wonderfully appropriate sentiments on this father’s day, Maria.

    Though my sons have not met anyone famous on their excursions, they have, through travel, also before their 18th birthday, had experiences that have helped them grow and evolve as young people.

    It is our joyful duty as fathers to provide a loving foundation for our children and, as best that we each can, create a an environment that indeed emphasizes education, confidence, kindness and growth.

    Your father did a wonderful job, Maria.

  6. I totally learned the same stuff from my Dad. I also found out a year or so after I had come to skepticism that he had been a subscriber to Skeptical Inquirer for many years. He is a man who leads by example, is my Dad.

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