Ten days after I arrived home from SE Asia I was to be married. Given my experiences I drove through the night to see my fiancee. We talked until daylight as I explained what I had experienced and how that had affected me both mentally and emotionally along with what I sensed was a mandate to return and work there. Best to be honest up front. She knew that that’s the way I was and am, and is in large part why she wanted to marry me. And with grins and hugs she enthusiastically affirmed my insights and decision and replied that she too would like that as well. And that is how our married life began forty years ago, with a dual commitment to sacrificially serve those most in need.
But I did not receive such support from very many others.
Returning to university for my final year of agricultural studies I was immediately and unexpectedly confronted by my adviser, who was the head of the Animal Science department, and as I would find out, a man with deep political ties. He had been responsible for getting me my two previous summer positions with progressive farmers who themselves had been his advisees. After telling him some of my agricultural experiences from SE Asia he told me in no uncertain terms that he had not been in favour of my having gone there, but now that I had he hoped that I would face reality and that given your abilities not squander them in the future. He said that of all the students he advised he had highest hopes for me and that that was why he had gone through all the trouble of getting me premium placements in the previous years. He went on to say that he had great news for me. He had secured and scheduled an interview for me with a colleague at the Chicago Board of Trade later in the month and that knowing his contact and knowing me that I would be hired there upon my graduation. And was not that great news?
I sat there, shocked and horrified beyond belief.
No, I said, thank you, but no. My brains suddenly felt scrambled. There was just too much craziness to deal with at one time, psychological, social, education, work, faith, spouse. I was incredulous. I mean, in his words my life came crashing down around my ears. His face became angry. Very angry. Well then, you can just get out, he stated. I beg your pardon?, I replied. You heard me, he said, you can just get out and not come back until you come to your senses. But I had courses to discuss, forms that needed signing. No, he said, come back when you are ready to go to that interview and forget that you were ever in SE Asia, you had your fun. I had never been treated like that; I did not know that you could be treated like that. I walked out of the building in a daze. I did not know what to do. My eyes filled up with tears. What was I to do now? It felt like my life was over. It felt like I was being punished. It felt like he was enjoying do so. He was saddistic, willing to throw everything into confusion, all over his notions of how he thought the world should be run. I went back to my apartment and sat there in a stupor. Hours passed. Then days. I walked through life mechanically attending classes. I could not keep my mind on my studies. I talked things over with my wife. We were both at a loss. Here was a very powerful man who was looking to ruin me. And for what? I was too young and naive and protected and passive – but mostly stunned – to know how to respond well. The waves had seemingly closed over my head. And then I had a flash of insight. Walking by the building that housed the Dean’s office of the College of Agriculture it occurred to me to simply enquire into the university’s policies regarding student/advisor relationships. I guess that my shock had turned to frustration and then lightening stuck. My experiences overseas of having had to work in the face of local opposition by rich men who had not wanted poor farmers to become self-sustaining, and then my indignation at working with the beautiful, gentle people who had been permanently maimed and displaced by my own government’s largest bombing campaign in history suddenly had become personal. This was a watershed moment. So I stopped in unannounced and was greeted by his receptionist. With shaking knees I explained to her what I had experienced and told her that this professor even refused to allow me to seek out a new advisor. And with that she smiled and said, Thank you. Please wait here a moment. And the next thing I knew a very large and intelligent Dean of Agriculture was inviting me into his office where he enquired with the greatest kindness and care of my situation. He shook his head in appreciative disbelief at what I had done the past summer, affirming everything. And then he said something to the effect of how proud he was to have a student like myself who was so willing to do what I had done and what I hoped to do in the future. And he said that there had been similar previous incidents with my advisor and that I did not have to worry. Who did I want for my next advisor? The matter would be a done deal within the hour. He profusely thanked me for coming in and wanted to know how I had come to the decision to do so? I certainly had not gone there out of ill-will, or revenge, or self-justification. I just wanted to know the truth. I could live with the truth and make my own decisions accordingly in spite of the consequences. And that way of working has stayed with me now my whole life.