Happy Father’s Day, Dr. Cronin

When I was three, I would sometimes walk beside my father while my mother was busy with my eight brothers and sisters. I was young and my dad was too tall and stout to hold a small child by the hand, let alone carry it with me. Instead, he was holding his elegant index finger. I would reach out, wrap my hand around him and go.

The writer, fourth from right, is in the arms of her sister, Ingrid, as their father graduates from medical school.


Courtesy of the Cronin family

My father, who died in 2005 at the age of 81, had nine children and 15 grandchildren. Today he will have 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. He and Mummy, now 93, married 72 years ago. Impressive numbers aside, my dad was a young and reticent parent who would be baffled by parenting today.

Children are imprecise, impulsive and untidy, all circumstances abhor the father. He began to enjoy his sons and daughters only after we were old enough to sit at our long dining-room table and tell the story of the daily newspaper our parents had asked us to read.

Born in 1924, my father grew up in England and Ireland in an age when children were rarely seen and never heard of. He and Mummy, also from Ireland, wanted a big family. My father resisted inventions such as Father’s Day and would be annoyed to be mentioned here because he thought one should appear in the newspaper twice: at marriage and at death.

At the age of 24, he earned his veterinary degree and doctorate, specializing in equine hematology, which brought him to America to work with racehorses. Keen to continue learning – and earning – he enrolled in Georgetown University Medical School when he was 37 years old and the father of six. He became a full-time student and continued to work nights in the research lab where he was before medical school, only at his microscope in his studies at home, not in the office. After placing fifth in his class, he was offered internships and residencies at Yale and Harvard. Halfway to medical school, his seventh child has arrived. I, the eighth, showed up in his final year and my younger brother during his stay.

Because we are Irish and laugh at sad things, my brothers and sisters find it amusing that my father, who did not like children and went on to specialize in human pathology, won the prize for the Pediatrics category.

He encouraged us to be independent. The year before my father passed away, I asked my parents if I should take a vacation to be with them in Connecticut. The father objected to this with pain but the patient offered anything of bad taste. “of course not!” He said. “You have your work and your life to lead.” He noted that he and Mummy, as newlyweds, had moved ocean away from our relatives to raise their family.

He took his words and actions very seriously and would have been pissed off at today’s extravagant hug and the inevitable “I love you.” The extravagance of expression – except for laughter – was bad form. He would have been horrified by the popularity of over-sharing one’s feelings on social media. His love transcends words and gestures, rarely shown but implicit and enduring.

As a teenager, my sisters and I endured an annual Father-Daughter Mass and breakfast. Dad hated this upsetting event as much as we did but he always lived up to the occasion. When we treated my fellow church mates and fathers to my classmates, I couldn’t be more proud.

Ms. Cronin is the magazine’s associate editorial features editor.

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appeared June 17, 2022, print edition.