Megalodon Dads

The Megalodon was an amazing predator.  A 60-foot shark with teeth over 7 inches long.  It ruled the seas for 20 million years.  I love collecting Megalodon teeth.  Recently I picked one up that is over four inches long.  It’s not perfect – it has few serrations and part of one side was broken off at some point.

It’s hard to dwell on the imperfections considering how incredible it is to simply look at and to hold in your hand.  I decided to make a stand for it using a fossilized whale vertebra.  I carefully carved out a chunk of the vertebra and set the tooth in it.  It now looks as though the Megalodon lost its tooth while taking a bite out of the whale.  Besides the fact that I think it looks pretty cool, mounting the tooth this way hides the imperfections and helps the viewer to imagine the sheer power the Megalodon had.

As I was working on this mount a few weeks ago I started thinking about fathers and how they are a bit like this tooth.  My dad in particular is pretty amazing.  He would be the first to tell you that he isn’t perfect.  If he’s anything like me, then I’m sure he’s harder on himself than anyone else and has a running list of character flaws he’d like to change.

But since he’s my dad I don’t notice the minor flaws.  To me he’s simply incredible.  Having him as my dad showed me all the wonderful things about him and made it hard to focus on anything else.  As far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be just like him.  I remember staying up late on Saturday nights just long enough to listen to the Doctor Who theme song (before falling asleep on the floor) because I wanted to be with my dad.

He spent countless hours helping me with math homework, which I knew I had to learn well since I wanted to be a physicist (like him) when I was in kindergarten.  We geeked out at museums and he showed me the best way to shock people using the plasma globe at the planetarium.

So to all you fathers out there – and to my dad in particular – thank you for being so incredible in the eyes of your children.  I wish you could see yourself the way I see you.  Don’t be so hard on yourselves for not being perfect, just be the epic Megalodon you truly are – and have that second helping of pie, you deserve it!

Genetic Mom-ifications

DNA is a pretty amazing molecule.  Even though the strands are so tiny that 5,000 of them laying side by side would only be the width of a human hair, DNA contains an incredible amount of information.  It encodes all the information necessary for your body to look and function the way it does.  DNA is such a compact way of storing information that scientists have found a way to create “DNA hard drives” to store digital data.

Besides the vast amount of information stored within DNA, I find it amazing that DNA can survive the vicious daily beating that it receives.  Each day the DNA in each of our cells will be damaged up to one million times – and yet most of that damage is fixed by an amazing cellular repair system that operates without a single conscious thought from us.

Now most of the time we are happy to have an organism’s DNA repaired and kept just the way it is, but sometimes it’s nice to modify it.  Life saving insulin for diabetics used to be extracted from pig pancreas, but it is now produced by genetically modified bacteria.  Until the late 1980’s cheese was made by extracting an enzyme from calf stomachs, but that same enzyme is now mass produced by genetically modified microbes.  Genetically modified Glo-fish are now available at pet stores.  Genetic modifications can be used to add β-carotene to rice, create edible vaccines in bananas, or to reduce the amount of cancer-causing acrylamide in potatoes.

Now I’m not here to talk about whether genetic engineering is a good idea or not, but I think everyone agrees that it is incredible that scientists have the power to make genetic modifications.  And yet, that power is nothing compared to the power that mothers have to change lives.  I guess you could call them genetic mom-ifications [although that sounded way cooler in my head].

Just as our cellular repair systems protect us from damage done to our DNA from everyday life, mothers devote their lives to protecting their families from the destruction rampant in the world today.  Elder Boyd K. Packer once said, “We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.”

Besides providing protection, mothers are agents for change in the lives of their children, grandchildren and in the world around them.  In 1979, President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world … will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

Since it is Mother’s Day, I’d like to talk about some of the women who have changed my life forever.  There is no way to discuss all of the ways that they have affected me, so I’ve chosen to focus on some small things that have had important consequences in my life.

Growing up, every year my Grandma Cross would call me on my birthday.  She would always start by singing to me.  As a teenager I would roll my eyes and pretend that it was embarrassing, but to this day I get a little choked up just thinking about it.  The simple fact that she remembered my birthday and took the time to call and talk to me made me feel important.  It still serves as a reminder to me that there are people out there who know my name and care about me as an individual.

When I was serving a mission in South Texas my Grandma Jones found out that my companion’s family wasn’t very supportive of him.  She would send amazing packages that somehow defied the laws of physics by containing more items packed in there than was physically possible.  And every time I’d open one of those boxes I would find that half of the goodies were for my companion.  The first time it happened he couldn’t believe it.  He ended up writing letters to her each week because he was so grateful.

Now my companion and I didn’t always get along, mostly because I was young and foolish [I’ve solved half that problem, as I am no longer quite so young].  At times we would argue.  But after that first package arrived things changed.  When I would get upset and try to start and argument I could see him about to say something back, but he would get a look on his face and then he would suddenly stop.  This would defuse the situation as I found that it was very hard to fight when you are the only person arguing.  It was as though he would look at me and think, “This guy is a dork, but his grandma is so nice that I’m going to treat him with kindness.  Not because he deserves it, but because she does.”  I’ve tried to apply this in my own life.  I’m far from perfect at it, but when I get upset I try to stop and think that even if the person in front of me deserves my anger, would I react differently if their mother or grandmother was standing next to them?  What if their Savior was by their side?  Would I bite my tongue and let go of my anger for His sake?

My mother had an impact on my life daily.  Sometimes it was with things that seemed trivial at the time.  For example, I remember a fourth grade project on volcanoes.  I’m sure you’ve experienced this as a parent – “It’s due tomorrow?!?  Why didn’t you tell me about it earlier.”  On this particular occasion it was bedtime and suddenly I pulled out the paper about the project.  My mom just sighed and we went to work.  I remember that it seemed to take hours.  At one point I went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on my face because I had seen in the movies that that’s what you were supposed to do when you were working on a late night project.  I’m amazed my mom didn’t groan when I came back to the table, no less tired, but with a damp shirt and a confused expression on my face.

I didn’t realize it at the time since I didn’t grasp the fact that my mom had her own life and probably had hundreds of things she would rather do than work on a late night project with me.  But she sat next to me and helped me finish it.  She taught me that life is tough, but that just means you have to buckle down and get to work.  I’ve tried to teach that same lesson to my kids.  Mikayla and Natalia are currently testing for their 1st degree black belts and as part of the test they have to run three miles in 27 minutes.  This is not an easy task, but I know they can do it.  Whenever possible I go out there and run with them, even though before this I don’t think I’ve ever run three miles in my entire life.  I like to think that my presence and support helps them to run faster, even if it’s just to be ahead of me and out of the splash zone in case I throw up.

My lovely wife – the mother of our three children – is an amazing example to me.  She is the funniest person I have ever met and she has helped me to learn that life is easier to cope with when you have a sense of humor.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at her beautiful smiling face now, but our daughter Mikayla was not an easy baby.  In fact she was a bit of a shrieking terror for the first few months of her life.  Generally she would fall asleep screaming and then she would wake up screaming.

I was in my first semester of graduate school, trying to balance a full load of graduate courses, acting as a teaching assistant and doing organometallic research with a very demanding boss.  Lara was trying to recover from a C-section while dealing with a tiny, yet very demanding infant.

We were a mess.  We were both exhausted all the time – physically, emotionally and mentally drained.  I remember one night we were trying to do the bills and neither of us could add two numbers together.  On another night we had finally gotten Mikayla to sleep and we were so excited to finally go to bed ourselves when suddenly she woke up and began to wail.  We both laid in bed for a few seconds before Lara said, “You know, she’s the best baby I’ve ever had.”  We both began to laugh hysterically, which made Mikayla cry even harder, which made us laugh even harder.  I’m sure our neighbors thought we were insane, which we probably were.

We made it through those trying months, thanks in large part to Lara’s sense of humor.  We’ve had some very tough times since then, but my wife has taught me that sometimes your only options are to laugh or cry – and it’s a lot more fun to laugh.

So on this Mother’s Day, thank you to all the mothers who have made such a difference in my life and in the lives of every man, woman and child on this earth.  I echo President Russell M. Nelson’s words, “The culminating act of all creation was the creation of woman!”  Mother’s Day only comes around once a year, but your acts of love, devotion, and sacrifice will be remembered and cherished for all eternity.