A Father’s Day by the Numbers


One of the many reasons I moved to Chicago last September, which was mostly unconscious until this week, was to help me feel closer to my father who lived here for the first 28 years of his life. As I traversed my new neighborhood and others, I pondered…Where was the church where my father was an alter boy? How did a very poor boy learn to golf at a young age? Did he ever venture from the south side to attend a Cubs game? Where did he swim in Lake Michigan? What were the names of the bars he drank at as a young man? Did his parents, my grandparents, like each other?

My Dad is a great storyteller, but in the past, has been reluctant to share too much detail about his younger life that was often difficult.  In preparation for a Father’s Day-themed story telling event I was asked to speak at, I carefully asked him for an interview by voice mail. Several days later, he called and what I thought might be a 15-30 minute chat became a two-part, 2.5 hour interview where I asked him every question I always wanted to, and he answered with great enthusiasm and detail.   It was an incredible experience and I hope we can repeat it, with a recorder next time.

My Dad was a nerd before being a nerd was cool. He has a sharp learner’s mind that has helped him overcome a difficult start where his mother and father struggled to feed five kids during The Great Depression. He has a near photographic memory that is still intact today, despite his age.  His uncanny, ability to recall dates, grades, prices, names and other historical data use to make me feel inadequate when I was younger, but now I find it amusing and incredible.  He seems to enjoy it when dates or numbers tell a story, so to honor him and our special bonding phone call, here are the numbers that will frame this piece of Father’s Day writing: .0156, 85.5, 100 and 137.

.0156 is the probability of having 6 people in the same family, all have even number birthdates. “It is like throwing a coin and getting heads 6 times in a row.” he said with pride when I was a young girl. I have a vague memory of my Dad trying to teach me how to calculate probability long before it was required in my math curriculum as part of this conversation. It led me to believe we were magical and that my father believed we were too.     

85.5 is his exact age of my Dad, on the day I conducted the interview this week. Of course, he was the pointed this fact out, in his human-calculator/calendar way. He told me toward the end of the call which added punch to this wonderful experience I shared with him.   My eyes were filled with tears for the last hour we spoke as I was keenly aware of how rare and special this talk was. The fact that it was his half birthday made it more of a celebration.

100 is the score that changed my Dad’s life.  In 1955 IBM placed a help-wanted ad looking for field engineers for the SAGE System, a way to track and assemble radar signals during the Cold War.  This was IBM’s first computer which was 200 feet by 200 feet square and about two stories high. My father had been an appliance repairman for about four years when he went to apply for the job, in person. After filling out the paperwork he was met by some disparaging and rude remarks from one of the people representing IBM, who mocked him and his current job. Then my father took the written exam required by all applicants and the other representative scored his effort. My Dad scored 100% correct and three months later, went to work for IBM, where, for the first time in his life, he had to wear a suit for work. My father worked on many federal programs for IBM, and remained in their employ for the rest of his working life. When he retired, they had progressed from those large computers to laptops.

137 is the number of credits he had accumulated toward a 144-credit degree in engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. This was one piece of history that was completely new to me. I knew he had taken some night classes before working at IBM but had no idea he was so close to graduating, or where he went to school. It turns out he took classes on and off for close to 9 years, at one of the top engineering schools in the US.  I wonder if working as an engineer, for another technical institution as it progressed from house-sized computers to one you can easily carry can translate to the, 7 credits he needs to graduate. I think, YES!

Dearest Dad,

Happy Father’s Day!

I often think about how wise you were when you told me many years ago that I should consider learning more about technology for my career, no matter what discipline I chose.  I did not think that was sage advice at the time,  but have finally caught up to the idea just in the last few years and now pass it on to my clients, every day. I thought you had this advice because it was your world, but now I realize you had a vantage point to seeing how technology would become part of every facet of everything we do.

Thanks for sharing your life and history with me so generously this week.



Laurel Donnellan

Founder and CEO, Bright Livelihoods


© 2013 – 2014, brightlivelihoods. All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “A Father’s Day by the Numbers

  1. Nice story about your Dad. I wrote a book about mine, who was a little old than yours. They lived through the same times, and changed the world.

  2. thanks so much– I think there may be a book too– I hope this is just the beginning of my journey… would love to read your book if you are willing to share the title– thx

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