What is love?

What is love? I don’t call Dad anymore. The conversation confuses him and frustrates me. It doesn’t go anywhere. I was avoiding and delaying making calls, and thus not getting it done. Instead, I started writing to him. I try to write once a week. I don’t always succeed, but at least I often succeed.

What is love? I think about this every time I visit the nursing home.

I don’t want to go.

It is sad inside, and I am depressed when I leave.

Sometimes I’m glad when Dad is too sleepy/out of it to visit. Then I can leave more quickly.

I feel guilty for that.

But twice a year, I make a trip up to Chicago. I see him pretty much every day for the three or so days I am up there. I get to visit my friends too. I go, and I sit with him, wondering if he’ll remember I was there. I touch his arm or his shoulder. I hug him, and I tell him I love him. I worry about how he is doing.

Sleepy Dad and me selfie.

Sleepy Dad and me selfie.

Sometimes, when he asks obnoxious questions about my underthings, I remember all the ways he failed me as a parent, and many things that I don’t or didn’t like about him. But that’s water under the bridge now; that parent is gone, most of what he is is gone.

I cannot fix any of that. The only thing I can do is show up. Twice a year. For a few days. Even though part of me really doesn’t want to. Yes, I show up for him. But I also show up for me. Because showing up tells me who I am. That, in the end, I realize this is the only father I will ever have, and that he loved me, however imperfectly. I loved him too. However imperfectly.

It is my turn now to take responsibility for loving him now by showing up and by writing letters since those are the things I can do.

Semi-annual visit

Twice a year I fly up to see my Dad. He’s in a nursing home not too far from where I grew up.

I’m lucky, I have friends in the area, so I can visit Dad and combine that with visiting people that I want to see. Part responsibility, part fun.

No matter what, visiting the nursing home is always hard. I haven’t been to a cheerful one yet. People in various degrees of disability and distress, unable to take care of themselves. Some, I am sure, are making the best of the life they have. Maybe some are very content and happy there, but I don’t see it.

Dad has been sleepy and fairly unresponsive this trip with one notable exception. Yesterday he greeted me with the question, “Are you wearing a bra?” “Yes, Dad,” pulling out the strap, “see?” “I can see your nipples,” was his reply. Today I made sure to wear a patterned shirt. Meanwhile my sense of comfort in my own clothing is diminished.

I have to admit, Dad did this before the dementia set in — or maybe the dementia was setting in long long ago. This is not the first time for the bra accusation. One of the worst was when the two of us were sitting in a crowded restaurant, and he burst out with a loud, “My, you have a lot of hair on your face.” Thanks, Dad.

Letters from Students Unhappy with Grades

Dr. Linhart,

My world is going to end if you give me the grade I earned in your class. Because of this, can’t you just give me a C instead?



Dear Student,

I think there is a misunderstanding about grades. I do not give grades. I report what happened in my class with regards to student performance. As such, I cannot, and my integrity requires that I do not, report grades that are unmerited to the university.

I wish you fortitude in dealing with your situation. I realize this is not at all the situation you want to be in, but I know you will find the fortitude, dignity and integrity to get through it. Things are often incredibly painful when they are happening, and our challenge is to learn what we can learn from them, so that we don’t have to face the same problem again.


Dr. Linhart

Dr. Linhart,

Are you available in the morning tomorrow? I can bring all my assignments and exams, and surely there are points I can reclaim in order to get above the defined line.

Thank you!


Dear Student,

Please tell me you are joking about this. I have been available all semester long to deal with point disputes. If there is something you feel very strongly about, I will, of course, be happy to hear you out, but this should have been taken care of when the papers were first returned to you.

I think you also misunderstand how many points it takes to raise a grade. Let’s say you had an 79.5% and the cutoff was 80% (I am sure we are talking a larger gap than this, but let’s use it for an example). That seems a small amount, but a handful of homework points or even a few points on the final or another exam will not bridge this gap.

I know you are disappointed with your grade, but I believe your time and energy would be better spent in determining what you need to do to avoid this situation in the future. The power to come for help or to put more effort into learning the material was available to you for the entire semester. If you had exerted this energy then, you would have earned the outcome you desire with no questions from anyone and with a great deal less frustration on both your part and on mine.


Dr. Linhart

Did I just smile for 3 hours straight?

I think I must have smiled for 3 hours straight. This was my first time at graduation on the stage as faculty. Giving the diploma to my student was awesome in and of itself. I think my smile almost broke my face.

I got to give my research student his diploma at graduation.  Here we are, backstage, immediately afterwards!

I got to give my research student his diploma at graduation. Here we are, backstage, immediately afterwards!

If that was not enough, one of our associate deans was there, and he provided some mentoring. He told me I could move around on stage and go greet the students backstage if I knew them. Every time I recognized a name of a student that I knew, I jumped up, and went to give out congratulations and hugs. The other faculty probably thought I was nuts. I didn’t care. I think the students were glad to see me, glad I recognized them (although sometimes I did mis-identify which class they took from me), glad I was there with congratulations and hugs. I loved it. I just loved it.

Eventually I figured out who to talk into taking photos.

The only regret for the day is that I missed taking a photo with a friend graduating with a Ph.D. early in the ceremony. But I got to be there. I got to be a part of it. I got to see it. That made it a great day.

Semester Wrap-Up

The semester comes to a close. My temper has been short lately. My patience has been short lately. It will be good to have a change and necessary to take a break.

What is it that makes this time of the semester so difficult for everyone? Part of it is, undoubtedly, sadness that we won’t much see this group of students again, since on the most part, we truly like them. Some of it is the high paperwork load that comes with wrapping up a semester. Some of it is the grade-grubbing and begging. I’d rather help students work hard and learn than give them grades that make them sad. But my job is to report what happened over the course of the semester, according to the rules laid out in the syllabus. There was the option of coming for help before the last week before the final exam.

I am also questioning myself. I made my final optional, but in order to insure that students came to class and learned the last material, I insisted on no unexcused absences for the last week and a 70% score or higher on the final homework. I think 3 failed to make the score on the final homework. One, in part, because he handed it in late. Another just did poorly. One of the two didn’t show up for the final. The second scored poorly pulling a borderline C down to a D in my class. A rule is a rule, and I know that it is part of my job to enforce rules. Though sometimes we make judgment calls on things. Let them walk away with a C and be done. The consequences of not knowing the material will catch up. Of course, sometimes that is the wrong thing, and it is better to accept responsibility for handing the consequences out rather than delaying it for some other instructor. Right. Wrong. Hard to tell. And maybe there is no right or wrong here, there just is what is.

Many students struggle with the concept that actions have consequences. Fair enough. But sometimes better to leave well enough alone. Also fair enough. Perhaps for next time, if where I am going to be teaching in the future allows optional finals, I will find a way to change how I notify or change the policy in a way that is gentler on everyone’s spirit.