When you’re getting to know just about anyone, one way or another you’re going to get on the topic of, as immortalized by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, “who is your daddy, and what does he do for a living?” Okay, so it usually doesn’t come up outright like that, but your friends are going to want to know your family, so why not let them? I start out by telling them a little bit about my dad. His name is John, he’s sixty-three years old, and has been many a times mistaken for my grandfather because his hair and mustache used to be bright red, but it’s becoming more white now, and his skin is thick with age and freckles. He drives an Acura with a technology package that he can (and does) interact with, and he’s lived in the same town in New Jersey that we call home for his entire life. He’s a little shy when you first meet him, but don’t let that fool you because he’s as mischievous and witty as they come. He can interrogate my sister for hours on end about a Harry Potter movie he’s already seen, and he can grind my mom’s gears by poking fun at her shoes and taking her along for a ride to Lowe’s, but still be the doting hero of the family at the end of the day. Cool, cool. So what does he do for a living? He’s a doctor. That’s awesome, but what kind of doctor?
My dad is a gynecologist. Take it in for a second, let out a little chortle, or take a full-fledged moment of silence if you must. The fact remains that my dad looks at vaginas and delivers babies on a daily basis. It was almost an embarrassing thing to tell someone growing up. Forget talking about this in middle school. It was bad enough that my mom was the school nurse and was the accompanying guardian for the class when we watched the outdated film about puberty colloquially referred to as “the movie” just about anywhere you go. If I mentioned my dad was a gynecologist, boys and girls alike would lose their shit and everyone would just assume we were made of money. My dad garnered a plethora of nicknames courtesy of my high school friends, among them “Gyno the Dino,” “Papa V,” and “Vaginatarian.” What’s even more awkward is when people, ranging from the zany woman who cuts my hair to an old hookup who indulged in every waking detail of my life (such as this one) in order to coax me into bed, ask me if he’s my doctor. While it’s nice to have a dad who, at just a phone call away, can explain aches and pains or birth control problems, the true secrets of my vagina are not ones that we need to share, for my sake and for the sake of medical ethics.
Quite honestly, I consider my dad’s profession to be a noble one. Back when he first became a doctor (he graduated from medical school in 1978), female gynecologists were few and far between, and the generation of women at that time had to accept a male gynecologist to provide them with such personal and intimate care. My dad decided at fifteen years old, he was going to be a doctor, and that was that. He graduated high school twentieth in his class (but not in the National Honor Society. He claims that this was because he “wasn’t a brown-noser,” but this was due more to the fact that he was a notorious troublemaker.) and headed off to Rutgers to study zoology and get ready for medical school. He had no adequate advising except from his older brother who is, surprisingly enough, also a gynecologist, making the speciality, in essence, a family business in the weirdest sense of the trade. He struggled at first, but finished college strongly with hopes of attending Wake Forest Medical School. However, a few minor setbacks and the competitiveness of the time (it was the 1970s, and many people were going to medical school to avoid being sent to Vietnam) for graduate school applicants put my dad on the waiting list. Two gap years didn’t deter him, and in 1974, he headed to the Philippines to fulfill his dreams of becoming a doctor.
Living in a house with several other American medical students on a diet of ice cream and beer for four years, my dad’s life in Manila was certainly no walk in the park. I cried on my first day of high school because I had just started at a new private all-girls’ school where I knew virtually no one. Now place yourself in a country you’ve never been to where Americans were resented and multiply that by about a billion. That’s how my dad’s years in Manila were. As he left the airport, a boy tried to lift his wallet and steal his suitcases. He drove in a cab that was swarmed by angry Filipinos shouting “Joe! Joe!” (as in G.I. Joe, commonly associated with Americans) as he drove through the city streets. His house was infested with flying cockroaches which he and his roommates called fliers, and when the loathsome roaches took flight, the group of future doctors would knock them down and kill them with baseball bats. He came down with a case of dengue fever, a debilitating mosquito-born hemorrhagic fever that had essentially no treatment in the Philippines, and remained bed-ridden for weeks not sure if he would even survive. He came back to New Jersey bony and hesitant, still accustomed to keeping quiet the way he had in a nation that was under marshall law, with the distinguished degree of medical doctor. He dabbled in becoming a cardiologist, but ultimately chose gynecology as his speciality, and when working in a hospital in Newark, he met my mom. No, she wasn’t his patient. That would be just about the weirdest love story you could fathom. She was a labor and delivery nurse.
The most remarkable part of my dad’s quest to become a doctor is what he went through to become a doctor. These days, we take our organic chemistry, we get abysmal grades, and we bite the dust and settle for something else. My dad, though his weaknesses were in his humanities and writing classes, refused to let this get to him. He couldn’t imagine doing anything else with his life. How could he let an army of flying roaches or not seeing his family for a couple of years stop him? There was more to lose if he didn’t go as opposed to if he did, and in the end, he kept that promise to his fifteen-year-old self, and that’s something that our generation struggles with. We’re not consistent and we’re not motivated to fight back with everything we have when someone tells us no or our circumstances put us at our disadvantage. I’m not saying that our dreams and our plans don’t change, because they certainly do. Even my dad’s plans changed; upsets along the way altered the course he thought he would otherwise safely embark on. I idolize my father because he jumped every hurdle that came his way, even the ones that appeared too high for him to scale. So when that obnoxious girl from high school who would introduce me to people as “Katie, the girl who’s dad delivered me,” I no longer feel annoyed or embarrassed. I look at what my dad has done. It’s something that not many people would be willing to do, but he pressed on, and just the other day, he received notice that he was being commended by a magazine for being one of the best physicians in New Jersey. So yes, my dad is a gynecologist, and I could not be more proud of him.