“Can’t you see Carmen just once more before you leave?” she asked. I said the plane left early in the morning. “Couldn’t you get a job in California, move here, and maybe settle down with Peggy and the baby?” she implored, almost whining.Deadbeat dad? No, deadbeat sociologist dad! Scene from a novel? No, scene from an article on ethnographic fieldwork methods!
For a moment, I had the wind knocked out of me. “Listen, Pearl, the fact is, the academic job market doesn’t allow that kind of move. I mean, it’s not that easy just to pick up and get a job wherever you want, especially in California. Those jobs are scarce and hard to get,” I told her. “Anyway, uh, I’m actually involved with someone. I hate to say this, but your daughter and I barely know each other. We’re practically strangers. We just had that one date, that was it. I’m sorry, Pearl, you’re being very nice, I’m sure you’re a wonderful mother, and Peggy’s a wonderful woman. I’m sure she’ll meet a man who wants to settle down with her.” Man, this is painful, I thought, agonizing over every sentence. Finally, Peggy’s mother allowed me to hang up. At seven the next morning, Pearl called again and asked me to meet her and her husband at their produce market, accept some fruit, and talk about the situation. I declined. I have a plane to catch, I insisted. These phone calls are causing me considerable guilt, I told myself when I hung up.
Peggy and I corresponded for almost two years. She even sent several pictures of our daughter. She’s cute, I thought, little more. How could I possibly feel the complete father? I asked myself. For a brief period of time, I paid her monthly medical insurance, then she got a job that offered coverage. And then the letters stopped. I figured she’s met someone. It’s for the best, I thought.
Despite my having a zillion pressing things to do, a friend set me off on the digression of reading Erich Goode's article "Sexual Involvement and Social Research in a Fat Civil Rights Organization." (Qualitative Sociology, 2002, pp. 501-534). Other selections from the same article, with a brief italicized response:
1. "To be accepted in NAAFA, I had to prove my lust for fat women, and I had to prove it by having affairs with them. At the same time, I realized only much later, by having affairs with NAAFA women, I became entangled in the emotional complexities such affairs entailed, making my job of gathering information problematic." [A professional observer of social behavior, and he only realizes 'much later' that having affairs with multiple women might add emotional complications to a social research project.]Recently, I was so indignant about some problems in a quantitative research article that was published in a high-profile venue that I sent off a comment on the article to the journal. The comment was pretty unremittingly negative. In retrospect, I suppose I should have at least credited the author with not impregnating any respondents in the course of doing the analysis.
2. “She said you poured glass after glass of wine for yourself and never offered her one.”
“I did?” I asked. “Maybe I did, I don’t remember. If I did, it was a mistake. I don’t know, I guess I figured if she wanted some, she’d ask. Why didn’t she ask?” My head swam with the triviality of it all. How could I have been so damn stupid and insensitive? How could I have made such moronic mistakes? I was screwing up in the fundamentals of social research! [I suppose he can't be blamed if his social research methods instructor never told him to be sure to offer to refill his research subject's wine glass whenever he refilled his own.]
3. "I suppressed the idea that sleeping with my subjects was an inherently tricky proposition. It was only much later that I became fully aware of the almost self-contradictory nature of what I was doing. Sure, all researchers who participate in what they are studying run into these problems."[Actually, I have no response here other than to repeat the last sentence in a slow, incredulous voice]