Home > Uncategorized > 10 Silver Linings of Having an Asshole Father

10 Silver Linings of Having an Asshole Father

January 20, 2020

I wanted to share my words from my dad’s memorial this past weekend, which took place at UMass Boston. You can read his official obituary here.


10 silver linings of having an asshole father


  1. When I met Larry Summers at the hedge fund he was known as a pushy, physically imposing and intellectually arrogant bully. He was all those things. He was also a pussycat compared to my dad. My dad taught me never to be intimidated by anyone.
  2. My father never displayed nor expected conformity. Since he never followed inconvenient constraints of etiquette or behavior, my father role modeled for me that most norms or even laws can be interpreted as rules of thumb to be considered and held up to inspection rather than thoughtlessly followed. That’s been useful to me, especially as a female intellectual.
  3. My father was incredibly wrong about a bunch of things, and wrong headed to top it off. He consistently argued that men are smarter than women, even as my mom consistently helped him write his research papers, he seemed to truly believe some eugenic beliefs, and he was very into evolutionary biological explanations for why he and men like him should be entitled to unquestioned power. But to his credit, he was always willing to argue these points. He taught me the value of intellectual debate and fighting for my ideas and values.
  4. For the same reasons as above, he often embodied selfishness, self interest, and lazy thinking. He didn’t even believe science when it was inconvenient to his worldview, as in the case of climate change. At those moments, it made it easy for me to see and pick apart the errors of his logic. He turned me into an intellectual critic, which has made me a ton of money over the years. So thanks dad.
  5. My dad claimed, out loud and often, to be the smartest person in the world. He even sometimes seemed to believe it. And the truth is he was really smart, but he was also weirdly emphatic about exaggerating such things to the point of incredibility. I want to thank my dad for helping me understand our current president at a deep level.
  6. In terms of parenting my children, my father taught me the value of consistent kindness by displaying the wreckage of sporadic cruelty. I’m a better mother for my childhood, during which I learned what not to do. It’s a backhanded compliment but it’s real.
  7. Just as his brutality was never subtle, his generosity was never fake. Many of the people in this room can personally attest to my father’s impressive generosity with his home, his hospitality, his jokes, and most especially his alcohol. I thank him for teaching me to welcome people into my home with openness and love.
  8. Along those lines, my father taught me to love ideas for their own sake. His favorite activity was reading, and reading out loud to whomever happened to be walking through the room. To this day I cannot stand Robert Heinlein or Oscar Wilde poetry but I do love ideas and I think he’s partly why.
  9. When I was a little kid, my dad expected me to sing folk songs with him. One day he yelled at me to sing the harmony instead. I thought it was just something I was supposed to know how to do when I was 8. So I did it. I don’t think I’d be able to enjoy music as much as I do without that.
  10. My father taught me to say what I mean and mean what I say. For example, he was such an asshole he wouldn’t even mind being called an asshole. Actually I’m not sure about that but I guess the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree.
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 20, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    This is a tough post. My sympathies, I guess. Love your work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oscar
    January 20, 2020 at 3:53 pm

    That sure does explain a couple of things.


  3. JV
    January 20, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    Ditto 1, 4 6, 8, 9…Thanks!!


  4. January 20, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Beautiful! (…if that’s even the right word for it).
    And it reminds me just an inkling of John Cleese’s famous tribute to Graham Chapman:


  5. Phil Haverstick
    January 20, 2020 at 4:54 pm

    My dad was as bad as yours, but in a different way. But, like your dad, he had some good points too, as I think almost everyone does.

    But because he was that bad, after a certain point in my life, I chose not to have anything to do with him. I’ve often wondered why anyone in our shoes would have something to do with such a person. Why did you?


  6. January 20, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Love it! And I admire your courage to say this aloud in a room of (?) mourners. Maybe #10 i your list explains it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. January 20, 2020 at 7:50 pm

    May he rest in peace.


  8. Josh
    January 21, 2020 at 9:13 am

    Thank you for this lesson on seeing the upside of things. Though, the apple seems to have strayed a long way.

    Thanks to Shecky for the Cleese bit.


  9. Kay
    January 21, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Great post Kathy. My father was a real asshole too, so I know where you’re coming from. Funny, after he died, slowly lost all the weight I wanted and haven’t had any problem with it since.


  10. January 21, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Dear Mathbabe,

    My dad was also an alcoholic, though nowhere near so accomplished as yours. Still, item 6 feels like a gift to me too: it is one of my life projects that my son should never have to wonder whether his father really loved and admired him and, so far (age 8, so, you know, a bit early to tell), it’s going splendidly.


  11. January 21, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    OMG you totally just negged Cathy. It was her way of grieving. I don’t think your response was appropriate; it was certainly judgmental.


    • Catherine O'Neil
      January 22, 2020 at 10:14 am

      Wait, what? I don’t feel that way at all. I did delete one judgmental comment but it’s not here anymore. Thanks I guess for looking out for me but I don’t see the need.


      • January 22, 2020 at 6:49 pm

        It was to the comment that you deleted. Feel free to delete this thread. I would say that to anyone who talked like that to someone regarding their grief process. Cheers.


  12. January 22, 2020 at 10:45 am

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    Tohis piece is particularly interesting to me at this moment because I am composing hand written letters to two parents that were assholes and are stunned why I don’t seek their company.

    I also enjoy your blog overall. Really refreshing concise and accessible to lay readers.

    Glad to see you are getting picked up by Bloomberg. Have you been on nakedcapitalism.com ?



  13. January 26, 2020 at 11:06 am

    This is utterly brilliant. Thank you.


  14. Pavel Krapivsky
    February 6, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Sorry for your loss. Your dad comes out (from your weird eulogy) as a smart independently thinking man, probably not intellectually diminished by age, a kind of man enjoying life to the very end (if he was not in pain), so it should be tough and feels unfair.

    Regarding #10 item with a guess that the apple hasn’t fallen too far from the tree, it seems 100% true judging from your posts: Most of the time you sound as a clear-cut asshole. So congrats for the lesson learned from your dad. Hard of course to be sure are you a genuine asshole or you are engaged in a weird form of virtue signaling, e.g. hardly anyone would write this kind of post a few days after one’s dad died. This requires weird bravery (or narcissism?), but much less bravery than your dad displayed when he had unpopular opinions, yours are the mainstream in academic world and among your friends/readers. So there is still a room for you to learn from your dad, not to hold his opinions but to be less aligned with the currently prevailing views.

    Cheers, P


  15. Mike Maltz
    February 17, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    Last week I went to the funeral service of my sister’s husband. Their three children gave similar accounts of their father, perhaps not as strong as yours. But it seems that instead of “de mortuis nil nisi bonum” the order of the day is “de mortuis nil nisi veritas.”


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