Fathers’ Day


Leonard Zwelling

father died in 2000, but I never lost my Dad. He is with me every day. All of
you who have lost a parent know that you can never really lose them for what
they are is what they gave to you and that will stay with you, good and bad,
for as long as you live.

our society, mothers are usually seen as nurturing and fathers as educating. As
I often say in my talk on conflict of interest, the pharmaceutical industry
does not feed you because their detail people love you. The last person to feed
you because she loved you was your mother. Dads in our society are not quite as
celebrated. After all, have you ever seen a football player say “Hi Dad” on TV?
If mothers are dessert, fathers are your vegetables. Dessert tastes good and
makes you feel good. Vegetables are good for you.

father was one of the Greatest Generation serving in Europe during WWII, but
fortunately deflected first to Officers’ Candidate school prior to his unit
leaving for the front. That was good for me and my sister because most of that
unit died in the Battle of the Bulge while my Dad ran a motor pool as a first
lieutenant in England. He met my mother after the war when he had been
medically retired for a bleeding ulcer. My father never wore a uniform after I
was born, but he was also never discharged from the service. Thus, during the
Vietnam War when he became a draft counselor never losing a single boy to the
draft, he was both in the military and working against it. His own son (me) was
deferred of course through college and medical school at which time the war was
winding down and I had signed up for service at the NIH where you may have
noticed, we managed to keep Bethesda free of the Viet Cong.

teach. What my Dad taught me was courage in the face of wrong-headed authority
and peaceful but meaningful protest when necessary. This blog comes in a straight
line from my father. He, like I, was an angry guy trying to contend with events
in the world that were unfair, unjust and threatened the establishment that he
had helped to save during his active duty service. He was advocating for an
America that was not sending its sons to die for no reason. I am advocating for
the preservation of traditional academic medicine in the face of tremendous
pressure to turn it into a business.

has proven my father correct in every way. Vietnam was a disaster for this
country and for my fellow citizens with over 58,000 of their names on the black
granite scar in the ground on the National Mall. That wall bears the name of
Warren Franks, my fraternity brother who died in Vietnam after flunking out of
Duke primarily because his high school education as an African American male in
the ‘60’s South was not as good as mine was. My Dad was angry and so am I.

occurred to me this morning, Fathers’ Day, that the MD Anderson President has
often spoken about how his father’s death from colon cancer inspired him to
move into the field of human cancer research. Thus, in a way, his experiences
with his father lead in a straight line to the decisions he has made about
running MD Anderson. Unfortunately, an N of one does not clinical judgment

am quite sure that Dr. DePinho has truly drawn major inspiration for his
actions just as I have drawn inspiration for mine, from his father. My
inspiration has made me an outlier and a protestor. Guilty.  Just like my Dad. His inspiration has
taken us in a direction that many do not feel is consistent with our mission or
our strengths.

from your father is worth celebrating every day of your life. But in the end,
it is only you who can take responsibility for your actions. I own this blog
for better or for worse, but what I write has no lasting effect on anyone else
unless they chose for it to. The same cannot be said about Dr. DePinho’s
decisions. They affect all of us—fathers and mothers and our kids alike.

we are the fathers. What is the educational message we are sending to the next
generation about the future of academic medicine? Is it all about money or is
there still a little bit of altruism left that differentiates MD Anderson from
all the rest of the cancer care in the world? I believe the latter is the
preferred answer and that it is the direction that not only makes humanistic
sense, it actually makes good business sense. It always has at MD Anderson. Why
are we changing now?

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