In the Stephen Spielberg movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” a father abandons his family and loses his job to leave with alien visitors. The plot never set well with me, and having two kids of my own I just thought, “a parent would never do that.” In 2005, in an interview, Speilberg admitted that now that he has kids he would have never had the main character leave his family like that.
Yet, crazier things happen. I learned yesterday that a father who is married with four children, ranging in ages from 6 months to 13 years old has made the shortlist for the first manned mission to Mars. It is a one-way trip.
He has made the first cut to a list of about 1,000 finalists, so his chance of making the trip is quite slim, but the very idea of a father leaving his family to go to Mars has set off a flurry of comments on Facebook and elsewhere. Here are some of the more popular comments:
I was fascinated by the dilemma and the discussion because it is really an extreme argument. Every day busy professionals make trade-offs that force them to choose work over family. I grew up with a father who was an extremely busy surgeon with complete dedication to patient care. He was married to his patients, this is actually the term doctors use when you don’t use a team practice to cover a patient but you are always on call for your individual patients. For practical purposes, this meant that my father was rarely home before 8 at night and often he had to work all night or leave in the middle of the night. He was saving lives and working for a greater cause, but it didn’t make me miss him less. It also made me hate that he was a doctor sometimes.
Every individual that chooses to accomplish something great in their life must make sacrifices. Lawyers that choose jobs in the top NYC firms make a huge sacrifice as well. They make $1-$2 Million dollars per year at the big firms once they make partner—but at what cost? You can’t bill 2,200+ hours per year and have much time left for work-life balance. Some sacrifice time, others put their lives at risk. Soldiers, deep-sea drillers, and aid workers in war zones all take great risks while seeking their goals. Those four brave souls that decide to take this first trip to Mars will be making the ultimate sacrifice, but their names will be remembered by history forever. What percentage of all human beings will ever have a chance to be remembered that way?
It isn’t fair though. Of course not. It’s not fair to the wife who is left behind or for the children who are left fatherless. Why is he able to seek glory, while she is left behind holding the bag? I see the point of those people that are upset by the very idea.
What will the effect be on the children? How will they deal with losing a father to science and to the “progress of humanity?” If it happens, I think it will be complicated. Just like my relationship with my father is complicated. I love him and I’m inspired by the amazing things he has done, saving thousands of lives throughout his career and achieving national recognition. But at the same time, I can’t ever get back to a childhood where I couldn’t play catch with my Dad because he wasn’t home.
I guess my final thought is this, don’t be too quick to judge those willing to sacrifice in search of something great. I think there is something inside all of us that drives us to sacrifice personally for the greater good of society. If it wasn’t for this drive inside all of us, we may have never survived as a species.