On the first Sunday of June, Lithuania celebrates Father’s Day, honouring fatherhood and fatherly care that helps to nurture the family and raise children. This day was officially first celebrated in the United States, where a movement to honour parents was established in 1910 by Louisa Dodd, whose father raised six children alone. For the occasion of Father’s Day this year, Professor Dr. Algirdas Utkus, who is a geneticist and the dean of the Faculty of Medicine of Vilnius University, and his son Simonas Utkus, a soon-to-be graduate of the Medicine study programme of Vilnius University, agreed to share their thoughts.
Prof Utkus, what does Father’s Day mean to you? What memories do you have of this day?
I remember my father often and think about what he would have said or how he would have behaved in one situation or another. The celebration of Father’s Day is associated with a special kind of love and feeling of loss. For a long time, this day has meant visiting my father’s grave and being together with him in my thoughts. My childhood took place in Soviet times, and we did not celebrate that day then. My more recent memories of Father’s Day are very bright and relate to the fact that I am a father myself, and my children make me happy early in the morning every year by greeting me with a pleasant surprise.
Our memories of our parents always remain with us; we carry them honourably throughout our lives. What would you like to say to your father today?
I lost my father quite early; a serious illness ended his life at the age of 60, the same year my son was born. My father’s life was difficult. He was raised by his grandparents, and later by his aunt, and as a teenager he struck out on his own. Much was left unspoken or unshared and most importantly I never thanked him for giving me the opportunity to be on this earth and experience life in all its colours. All that is left for me is to be with him in my thoughts, and in that way express my gratitude, hug him, and have a moment of silence.
Prof Algirdas Utkus with daughter Ugnė and son Simonas.
You yourself are a father of two children. Has the world changed since you became a father?
Yes, I am a father of two children. I have a son and a daughter. When you have children, life changes dramatically; you become responsible for them, for the beginning of their lives. The instinct of care is activated. You think about how they will succeed, how they will live, and whether they’ll get sick, which of course not a single child avoids. You get anxious and try in every way to help and diminish their suffering from any illness or injury.
In your opinion, is it harder to be a father of small or grown-up children and why?
You remain the father of your children for your whole life no matter how old your children are. The difficulty of being a father, I think, is quite relative. While children are small, you are faced with one set of troubles: the first tooth, stomach-aches, sleepless nights, loss of appetite, and colds. But you know that everything is moving forward, and the child is growing up, getting stronger, and starting to walk and talk, and these accomplishments make it up for the sleepless nights and anxiety. With the birth of a child, you gain so many new experiences: the first time you take your baby on your hands, the first change of diapers, the first bath, and so on. All of this makes up for the temporary difficulties. On the other hand, when you give it a second thought, those difficulties were not even there, just a meaningful (and sometimes very enjoyable!) life experience that may or may not happen again. Grown-up children are adults with their own thoughts and aspirations, but as I said earlier, regardless of their age, for the rest of their lives they remain children to their mother and father. Their lives continue to be important to their parents, regardless of age. Children gradually become independent, but their worries and difficulties are also their parents’ heartache, and whenever possible you try to help or give advice.
What are the most important traditions in your family? What things have you learned from your parents or what things do you seek to pass on to your children from them?
There has always been respect and tolerance for each other in my family. I would very much like my children to always respect others, be tolerant of the opinion of others, and to be empathetic.
What future do you see for your children? Are you happy with their choices in life?
My son has chosen the path of a doctor. His desire to be a physician became evident at a young age. Already in primary school, he said that he wanted to be a surgeon and he has systematically strived for that. Am I happy he has chosen this path? I’ll be frank: yes. His choice means that in the future we will be connected not only by a father–son relationship, but also by a professional community. My daughter is graduating from gymnasium this year and is on the path of deciding where to go next and what study programme to choose. In this case, I can only provide advice, but she will make the choice by herself. Whatever it is, I will always support it.
Prof Algirdas Utkus with daughter Ugnė and son Simonas.
Do you talk about work in your family? For six years, your son has studied at the Faculty of Medicine, which you lead. Maybe you have received comments from him? Has this circumstance allowed you to see the Faculty through another’s eyes?
Of course, how can we not talk about work when it makes up a fairly significant part of life? Undoubtedly, while studying at the Faculty of Medicine, my son often told me about problems with the teaching process, about what students were dissatisfied with, and about what they thought should be done differently. In most cases, the observations were logical and accurate; after all, students are part of our community and their opinions are important to us. Such conversations and sharing of thoughts allowed me to form a comprehensive impression of how the study process actually takes place at our faculty.
What is more difficult: raising children or leading the VU Faculty of Medicine?
I can answer unequivocally: leading the VU Faculty of Medicine. The faculty is a very large family with many family members, and each has their own thoughts, ideas, views of the world, lifestyles, and behaviours. You need to try to understand everyone and to accept them as they are.
It is often believed that the head of the institution is in a sense like a father to all the employees, a person who has to dole out praise and criticism and sometimes make difficult decisions. So, the last question is: is fatherhood cool?
It is the responsibility of the head of the institution to listen, understand and help each member of the community and then make a decision. Scolding or shouting is not my style of work. I always believe that discussions with colleagues can solve any problem or dispute. At the same time, a job well done presents a pleasant opportunity to commend and thank someone. So, fatherhood is an interesting life experience in every way and is really cool.
Simonas Utkus in the middle; with his friend and proffessor.
Father’s Day is another great opportunity to be with the whole family and pay a bit more attention to Dad. “This holiday is no less important than any other! My dad is a special person to me. He never preaches, he doesn’t raise his voice, and he doesn’t criticise.” According to Simonas, his father’s parenting style is not based on moralisation, but on setting a personal example. “That’s probably why I was never tempted to drink alcohol or smoke. I wanted to learn, like my dad, to always say no. I just want to thank him for that again.”
My father has a lot of good qualities, but his patience and tolerance are inexhaustible
When asked to recall the most memorable story that happened to him and his father, Simonas shared the following. “Our most memorable adventure was probably driving lessons. Not only did his car suffer, but also our ears (due to the constant honking of those around us). I was once unable to cross an intersection even on the fifth try, but even in this situation, Dad remained calm. He has a lot of good qualities, but his patience and tolerance are inexhaustible.”
The example of my father was a strong influence in my choice of studies. “Both dad and grandmother have been the best examples of doctors for me from an early age. Unconsciously, I suppose I always wanted to be like my dad, but I eventually made the conscious decision to pursue the medical profession,” the sixth-year student said. Once he realized that there was nothing more interesting than the medical sciences, it was not a difficult choice for him to make. “I saw how much Dad worked. That didn’t scare me; it only encouraged me to work even harder.” Simonas, who is graduating this year, claims that becoming a doctor was driven by a desire to help people and the fact that he could not discover a more interesting and mysterious area. This opinion about medical studies, according to Simonas, was formed by his father’s specific literature about congenital and inherited diseases (with creepy pictures!). In addition, he was able to see the work of doctors in the hospital up close while still attending school. “I had the opportunity to observe various surgeries together with the young doctor club. Since I passed the exams with flying colours and did not even consider anything else, the first step towards medicine was successful.”
Waiting for the graduation ceremony
Asked if he felt exceptional attention because of his last name during studies, Simonas admitted that there was attention but that “it was hard to say why”. “I was class president. I had to communicate a lot, solve various organisational issues, and be at the centre of events. When representing both your class and yourself personally, it is always important to brace up and not disappoint anyone. How did I do? Perhaps you should ask my professors,” the Simonas said. He is currently waiting for the final exam and, of course, the graduation ceremony. “A lot has been achieved, so it will be a pleasure to receive an award for all the efforts of the 6 years. Of course, it is a joy to get a diploma from someone who is dear to me, my dad. Not only do I love him, but I also respect him. I hope he will be proud of me.”
What does Simonas intend to wish his father on Father’s Day? “His mother has been seriously ill for a year, so my father is carrying a huge burden looking after her. I wish him strength and endurance!”
Simonas Utkus and prof Algirdas Utkus.