Remembering My Father, An Extraordinary Gentleman, Computer Scientist, and Best Friend

This is a post I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready to write, but ultimately my father is too great a part of me and my life to not write this. I’ve shared some memories and reflections on my Instagram and Facebook pages (even a thread on Twitter), but this post is more personal. I’m taking a break from social media for a bit, but have a couple months worth of blog posts scheduled so you’ll keep hearing from me on EvinOK.com. But to explain why my grief has enveloped me so strongly, I want to share the brilliance that was my father.
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Bill’s heart was full of his love for his friends and family. My dad was the most generous, thoughtful, kind, intelligent, and genuine person I know. I strove to be like him and feel blessed that every interaction with him was filled with a reminder of his love for me and interest in the well being of others.
As most of you know, Bill and I were not just father and daughter, but best friends and two peas in a pod. The ongoing joke was that ‘we share a brain’ and it gave him (and me) great comfort to always have that connection. We could read each other’s thoughts. We had a secret handshake and a signal for “want to go to the ice cream parlour?” (a separate one for “do want ice cream from the kitchen?”). We once scored the exact same points in Scrabble – 248. We were astounded. I remember it vividly. We had taken over the dining room with the board and played for hours. When we had our IQs tested, we scored within a point of each other (I took the test again after I was in a coma and scored 20 points lower). It has certainly be a comfort to be carrying my father with me in my head and heart for the remainder of my own days and to share stories with his grandsons who brought him such joy.
His integrity was an example to me in everything he did. It was a constant that he would correct any cashier who undercharged him for an item. He and I once stood in a long line because after paying his receipt showed he was charged for a single can of Arizona Iced Tea, not the case he actually purchased. He kept blankets in his car trunk to give to anyone he may encounter on the street who needed one. How I used my skills and education was always more important to him than what I earned. He was always proud of me just for existing, but especially when I used me abilities unselfishly.
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He FaceTimed me every day on his drive to work. Before that, he phoned be every day timed with my trip home from work. For 17 years. We would just chat about whatever. He usually called when I was doing dishes, eating lunch, or cooking. It was like his personal food network. He had his phone on his dashboard so I could see the Lincoln Memorial on his drive to work. We shared everything. No pun was overlooked. He wanted to know anything mundane or awesome in our lives. As I did with his life. Before GPS and iPhones, if I was driving somewhere and couldn’t find my way, I would call him and he would talk me through the directions. We nicknamed those calls ‘DadStar’.
When I found my first grey hair, he smiled so widely. It brought him such joy to watch me grow older and experience the milestones of life. I was very sick as a child and I wasn’t expected to live to adulthood, let alone have children. For me to outlive him is a great gift he got to witness.
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He loved good food. He took me to Lyon and Paris once for the weekend for a family wedding and we ate our way through the Latin Quarter (photo below). It was in 2005 that he introduced me to taking photos of food. We were dining at Il Postale in Sunnyvale, CA and we ordered their special Caprese salad with two colors of tomatoes. He pulled out his camera and I was confused. That didn’t last long and a habit was born. His friends and colleagues would know he would always photograph a good meal. That being said, he always loved a good PB&J with chocolate milk. There was nothing snobby or egotistical about him at all. He was kind to everyone. He said it was being true to himself and what God would want from us.
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He bought the Christmas gifts for his grandsons, which he chose with me over several FaceTime chats. Our final conversation was much the same as all our daily talks, filled with love and happy memories and planning for our next visit. We talked for a while then my friend Frankie stopped by and we reconvened for more chatting later. For an hour we talked about everything as I wrapped the Christmas gifts he bought for my boys, his grandsons. We discussed our favorite meals, trips, moments, friends, and memories. In the past few years, our concern for the shift in morals and integrity became a topic of conversation too. He was deeply struck by the acts of racism and ignorance plaguing society. We also discussed the death penalty and its association with systemic racism. I was grateful I could talk as an equal with him about anything. He was aware and educated, but having been at the March on Washington in 1963, I also knew he was frustrated with the slow progress of equity and equality.

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As often as possible, I joined him for business trips and conferences. The photo above was taken at ADA Europe in Valencia in 2010. My husband and Optimus would come along too. The last time was to Pisa in 2016 when I was pregnant with Bumblebee. We went to a little Italian place for dinner and they spoke no English. I tried to translate the menu with my knowledge of French and ended up with squid ink pasta and calamari. With my super taste buds activated from being pregnant, the squid ink flavour was like licking the ocean floor. My dad gladly finished the dish for me and didn’t make a fuss because we felt lucky to have gotten a table in this tiny place. Then on the walk back to our apartment, we stopped and I ate a triple scoop of gelato.
Program Complexity Using Hierarchical Abstract Computers PhD by William G. Bail
His final day was not expected to be his last, but he did what he loved… his work. His passion for computer science and his integrity fuelled him in his 30 years with his employer working on projects he loved. He studied mathematics at Carnegie then went on to study computer science at University of Maryland, eventually earning his PhD.
It took him about 20 years to complete his dissertation. In an ever-evolving field as computer science was in the 1960s-1980s, his work was not straightforward, but he was determined, dedicated, and curious. When he was working on his PhD, he had a day job in the field and was a math teacher at the university in the evenings. I recall he would bring me to his classes when he taught and I’d sit and listen. No gadgets back then to keep me occupied, so I essentially audited his classes. When I was about eight years old, he taught his students Set Theory and I learned it along with the class, then helped my dad grade the papers. A friend reminded me of one day when my dad walked into one of his classes and asking if it was ‘statistics’ (or whatever the class was supposed to be) and some student joked in response, “It’s Classical Mythology”, so Bill commenced his class by reciting the first couple lines of The Odyssey in Ancient Greek. He had a great sense of humour.
He loved learning, which made him an enthusiastic listener as well. He kept learning in his field and was passionate about his work. Here is a list of his publications, not including his ADA involvement (Leuven 2001, Vienna 2002, DC 2003, Toulouse 2003 (T7 & T8), DC 2004, DC 2005, York 2005 (T10), Porto 2006 (T1 & T7), Geneva 2007 (T1 & T3), Venice 2008, Brest 2009 (T4), Valencia 2010 (T2), Berlin 2013 (T3 & T6), Paris 2014 (T7 & T8), Madrid 2015 (T7 & T8), Pisa 2016 (T1 & T2), Vienna 2017 (T3 & T8).
Losing him was my worst fear. We nearly lost him in 9/11 and since that day I was terrified he would die. So when I finally did lose him, I was crushed and falling apart. I was unglued and couldn’t sleep. How could I exist still with him gone? It felt beyond the laws of physics for this to be happening. I’ve only ever existed with him in my world. After the first two days of grieving, my eyes were dark from constant crying. I had a grief counseling session and saw my GP, who helped me devise better coping and medication to alleviate the physical strain of the grief. I used every tool I could knowing that those weeks were the worst of it. The quicksand of mourning gradually lost its hold on me and I found firm ground again and could take careful steps toward functionality and laughter. Each day has some tears and some laughter in it. A balance that will be my normal for a while I suspect.
I feel most blessed that I have no regrets. No unresolved arguments or unspoken feelings. Every conversation with my father was steeping in real talk and authenticity. It had to be because we knew just hearing the sound of each other’s voice or seeing an expression what was going on. My mourning stems solely from greed. I want more. I want to hear about what he had for lunch or the latest YouTube video he watched or that article he read in the Washington Post. I want to hear him sing in Ancient Greek or tell a joke in Latin or speak in puns. For him to play chess with Optimus online every weekend like they used to. I just want more. And knowing that is my wish, I resolved to be the ‘more’ I seek. To be that presence for myself and my husband, children, and mother who miss him dearly. I will pick up where he left off and carry on for him.
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We had not hugged Bill in 18 months and I missed him every day of that. Did you know his favorite drink was chocolate milk? He loved his dog children. Did you know he played the guitar (he had two Martin acoustics) and accordion? He made up all the bedtime stories he told me as a child – and he always meant to write them down and publish them. He played Barbies with me and did the voices. We loved road trips together. He studied Ancient Greek, Latin, German, and could speak French. Would it surprise you to know his IQ was 161? He was a great tennis player and loved chess, which he played virtually with Optimus most weekends. The last summer we visited, he would build Minecraft LEGO with Optimus after work. He was a talented artist and as a child at bath time he would literally ‘draw me a bath’ with paper and pencil. His enthusiasm was contagious. He loved wandering Paris and was an amazing photographer. In my 20s, I moved back home and got to know my parents as fellow adults. It helped me really learn about myself through them and also left with me no room for ego. It was an experience I value so much. In that time, my dad was my hairdresser. Yes, a computer scientist with a PhD did my haircuts and highlights. He joked his chemistry classes were finally getting used.
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Losing him is like a constellation that helped me always find my way has disappeared from the sky. The lights that guided me and illuminated my heart dimmed. I long to be back in the house to curl up in his clothes and cry. The anger phase of my grief was most definitely directed at the pandemic and my inability to travel for his funeral. My heart wanted to be there, but my head knew to stay safe. It is a long journey to recovery from this loss, but one I am blessed to not travel on alone. And he was not alone, his beloved dog died five weeks to the day after he did. They’re reunited across the rainbow bridge.
Rest in Peace, Dad. May we all aspire to be more like you. We will carry you with us.

Memento Hunt

I face what to do next because I feel I have lost a part of myself with him gone and our daily talks missing. I do not yet know what I’ll do, perhaps journaling.
In journaling, I also hope to find photos by/of or articles/tutorials written by my father. Anything to help create a story of his life to share and pass on to my sons.
Also, I’ve started and that is to look for Christmas ornaments from all the places my dad and I traveled to together (we had a friendly competition on who could visit all 50 states first – we were tied at 36), plus some I went to without him but on his suggestion and encouragement. My hope is that they are conversation starters so instead of being sad each Christmas, we can talk about the memories we shared with him in those places. I am converting keychains to be ornaments too (when it doesn’t look like a keychain). Here’s the list if anyone has suggestions or is in that area and knows of a source.  I’ll cross off as I get them. I don’t need all of them, just some.
Europe
Pisa, Italy (ADA Europe)
Vienna, Austria (ADA Europe)
Belgium (ADA Europe)
Berlin, Germany (ADA Europe)
Portugal (ADA Europe)
Valencia, Spain (ADA Europe)
Madrid, Spain (ADA Europe)
Paris, France (ADA Europe)
Brest, France (ADA Europe)
Bretagne, France
Normandy, France
Lyon, France
Tours, France
Caen, France
Bayeux, France
Le Mont St Michel, France
St Malo, France
London, England
Ealing Broadway Tube Stop, London
Towcester, England
Tower of London, England
Tower Bridge, England
Edinburgh, Scotland (ADA Europe)
Dublin, Ireland
Cork, Ireland (obviously, I’m local to this, just trying to find one)
Clifton, Connemara, Ireland
Bantry, Ireland
USA
Homestead, Florida
Parrot Jungle, Florida
Disneyworld, Florida
The Don Caesar, St Pete’s, Florida
Ft Lauderdale, Florida
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Duck, Nags Head, and Kittyhawk, (OBX) North Carolina
Richmond, Virginia
Chincoteague and Assateague, Virginia
Capitals NHL
930 Club, DC
Museum of American History, DC
White House, DC (we went separately, but each met a president)
National Zoo, DC (he took Optimus)
Buckhannon, West Virginia
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
Baltimore, Maryland
Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Maryland
University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland
Lake Needwood, Maryland
Bethany Beach, Delaware
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Chestnut Hill College, Pennsylvania
Main Line, PA, especially Ardmore and Bryn Mawr
Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania
New York, New York
Lakewood or Pier W (Cleveland), Ohio
Chicago, Illinois
East Lansing, Michigan
Snow Bird, Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah
Park City, Utah
Nashville, Tennessee
Arkansas
Texarcana, Texas/Arkansas
Dallas, Texas
San Diego, California
Disneyland, California
Sea World, California
San Francisco, California
Sunnyvale, California
Apple HQ, California
Santa Clara University, California
Seattle, Washington
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If you personally knew my father, you are invited to share your memories in this Google Form
This entry was posted in My Life.

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