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The Scarlet & Black

Professors explore parenting with PhDs

By Drew Ohringer

While students interact with professors everyday, many of us still struggle to imagine their life outside of the classroom. Ralph Savarese, English, offers a window into the experience of professors as fathers with the anthology “Papa, PhD.” Savarese co-edited the book, which features contributions from three other Grinnell fathers/professors. Their strange, funny and compelling stories let students see them in an entirely unknown role—as fathers.

David Campbell, Biology, reads from his section in the anthology

“There are many different kinds of fatherhood,” Savarese said. The book features essays from professors in all disciplines from all around the world. It introduces academic thought into discussions of parenthood—“what difference does contemplative fatherhood make?” the editors ask in their introduction.

Indeed, many of the contributors have reasons, beyond a background in academia, to be unusually thoughtful about their roles as fathers,. “Papa, PhD” brings together fathers of adopted children, children with disabilities and biracial children. However, since all of the fathers pursue an intellectual life, the essays are bound together by what they share. “We’re thinking for a living,” Savarese said. At its core, he says, the book is about “fathering deliberately.”

As co-editor—the other two are Mary Ruth Marotte and Paige Martin Reynolds—Savarese was able to solicit three other Grinnell professors for contributions to the anthology. Ira Strauber, Political Science, David Campbell, Biology, and Mark Montogomery, Economics, all added their takes on fatherhood in the academy. Savarese’s choices illuminate both a multi-disciplinary portrait of fatherhood and the strain that parenthood can place on non-tenured professors. “They’re like submariners,” Savarese said of fathers without tenure, “They don’t come back up for a long time.”

The publication of “Papa, PhD” follows the release of “Mama, PhD,” which was not edited by Savarese but which documented the lives of mothers in the academy. According to Savarese, the two books are very different. “Men don’t shoulder the same things,” he said. “It’s still a big deal if a man does the dishes.”

Whereas “Mama, PhD” reflected mothers’ anxiety about balancing their roles in the home and at work, “Papa, PhD” shows the ways in which fathers in the academic world are redefining the traditional roles of a father and, in doing so, changing the make-up of today’s families. In Grinnell, the professors who contributed to the anthology presented last night, Jan. 27, together to read from their work as part of the Writers@ Grinnell program, which Savarese directs. Although each contributor’s story was very different, they each spoke to the tremendous influence parenting has on the life of fathers. “You’re life is not your own,” Savarese said.

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