Two comments, or, How I got over wanting to be like my father

Seeing lots of family this past weekend got me thinking about mine.

My father died at the age of 55, when I was 24. He was a Foreign Service officer, and I wanted to be like him.

When I was an undergraduate, I was very unfocused, taking courses in wildly differing areas and not doing anything very well. I was spreading myself too thin (who takes German, French, Spanish and Portuguese, all in the same semester?). I was distracted by sex, and other things. My grades were only fair (some of them were quite disastrous).

One spring, I asked my dad about summer internships at his agency, and he said, “We don’t need any mediocre generalists.” Instead I got an internship with the Department of the Army, correcting mis-fed punch card inputs.

My senior year, I took the Foreign Service written exam. Later, when I worked at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, I discovered how hard most people prepare for this exam, but I didn’t know any better (I was the only person at my school to take the exam that year), so I took it cold. I did very well. At the time (don’t know if it’s changed) you were graded in a number of different areas, corresponding to different career tracks: Administrative, Political, Economic, Commercial and Consular (or something like that). I passed. I scored well in all areas, and my highest score was in Consular.

When I showed my dad my results, he said, “That’s fine if you want to spend the rest of your life stamping passports.”

For some reason I didn’t go on to the oral assessment.



  1. Patricia Tryon


    With the Tryon Scion back here (she’ll be 24 in November), this post strikes a useful cautionary note for her dad and me.

  2. mdmhvonpa

    Hmmm, sounds like Dad was doing his best to not say ‘no’, but guide you to look at something he felt would be a bit more rewarding that what lay ahead.


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