Joy McNair has a wonderful memory of herself as a toddler running toward her astronaut father as he returns home. But it's not her memory. She borrowed it from someone else.
"My mother has told me often that I was quite the daddy's girl," McNair said on the phone Monday. "I would run to his arms when he arrived from work every day."
But beyond that, her memories are murky.
Joy was just 18 months old in 1986 when the unthinkable happened and the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. Her father, astronaut Ronald McNair, and his six colleagues lost their lives, prompting President Reagan to call them true American heroes.
Now a 27-year-old Washington-based attorney, Joy experiences Father's Day very much like any other day.
"I've never had Father's Day to celebrate. So in a weird way it's not something that I feel a loss for."
For countless people who lost their dads before they had a chance to know them, Father's Day can force a confrontation with lingering questions and memory gaps. When the loss is part of a public event, when the world remembers your father in some ways better than you do yourself, the search to truly know your father can become a lifelong quest.
Editor's Note: Matthew Lane is a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics at UCLA and is the founder of Math Goes Pop!, a blog focused on the surprisingly rich intersection between mathematics and popular culture. Follow him on Twitter at @mmmaaatttttt.
There are many misconceptions about mathematicians in popular culture. For example, windows and mirrors do not make for the best writing surfaces, despite what you might assume from "A Beautiful Mind" or "Good Will Hunting."
Mathematicians are also frequently portrayed as painfully socially awkward. And while this is sometimes the case, the true range of personality types is much more varied. Even among the more socially awkward, it is not uncommon for mathematicians to fall in love, marry and start a family.