Today is my dad's 60th birthday. The look of complete contentment on Revi's face? Yeah, that's Papa for you. That's dad. That's Larry Woolf, senior citizen. (Seniors rule.)

I'm going to share a story about Larry Woolf, here, right now, because I don't write about my dad nearly enough and today he is officially a man.

My dad is a physicist. He lives and breathes physics. Growing up, we spoke two different languages and because I couldn't speak physics, and he couldn't speak teenager, we didn't say much to each other save for "Hi. I love you. Please stop yelling at your mom?" and "Dad, could you give me and my friends a ride to this party and then pick us up, like, super late from the party. Like, three blocks away?"

Anyway. I ended up taking physics senior year in high school because it meant a lot to my dad and I owed him after all of those rides. And also because I adored him. (Duh.)

Unfortunately, I was not a natural.

And my teacher was not a natural, either. And? He hated me. I mean, I was kind of the worse so I can't really blame him but also, the man was a terrible teacher. Sorry but he just was.

And I'm not just saying that because he gave me an F.  (I came very close to not graduating because of said F and finally, because I begged in tears, my teacher agreed to pass me with a D-. )

My dad was furious.

Not at me but at the system. Science education was a disaster and my dad was going to do something about it. He was heartbroken that I hated science so much. So? The year I graduated high school my father threw every free moment of his time towards science education reform. And for the last fifteen years, that is what he's been doing. At night when he comes home from work, he rewrites curriculum and edits and writes letters and organizes conferences to repair and reform science education. That's his hobby. His extracurricular activity. His resume is made up of dozens of published papers and events he's chaired and talks he's given and also? "Being an extra on The Big Bang Theory."

He had big plans for acting when he was little. He was cast as the lead in the school musical in middle school and then had to drop out because he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He had to have his thyroid removed and was never able to sing a note again. I mean... he sings, sure. But he never had a voice. (Even my mom, who has been music directing theatre since I was a baby, was unable to cast my dad in any of her musicals because of his inability to carry a tune. Also, my mother's heart is made of stone. Just kidding.)

My point being, my dad, who always wanted to act and sing and be on stage, never got the chance. And never once complained about it or felt sorry for himself. Every now and then he'd bring it up but always in a "oh well, that's just life" kind of way.

But passive Larry Woolf is not. So when he was put in charge of booking speakers for the American Physics Society in Anaheim, California, he decided to ask one of the EPs of his favorite show (The Big Bang Theory) to appear on his "Educating and Exciting the Public about Physics" panel.

Bill Prady said yes.

Months later, after coming and joining my dad's panel at APS, my dad posed for a photo with Prady and the two of them exchanged a few words. My dad brought his posters, the ones about color theory (the primary colors are NOT red, yellow and blue, they are cyan, magenta and yellow) that he had made. They talked educational modules and Prady asked if my dad could send some of his posters along and then my dad asked if he could be an extra on the show maybe someday.

Like, put it out there, nothing to lose, what do you say, Prady?

A few weeks later, my dad was given his assignment. He would appear as a background artist on episode 1 of Season 5. He was to spend a day on set and appear as a "background artist" for two scenes. The posters he had had sent over? All over the walls. All of them.

He called me. He called my brother. He called my sister. He asked my kids to get on the phone. This was it. This was major. This was his television debut.

Two years have passed and my dad's episode is still alive and well on the TiVo -- a moment my dad relives from time to time on the big screen TV he purchased for the occasion. A dream that wound its way around and up and down and underneath and through a hole and then out and then through and then up again. And, no he didn't have a speaking part. And if you didn't know to watch for Larry, you might not have caught him.

But he killed it up there. He ROCKED that Members Only jacket in the background of the cafeteria scene.

"It was one of the greatest days of my life," he said.  "I got to be an actor. Kind of..."
(Larry Woolf, upper right corner. Blue jacket. Mustache. Show-stealer.)

Lately I've been thinking a lot about chance. About our lack of control over certain areas of our lives and our ability to take control of them later on. About life lists harkening back to all of the things we were too scared or too limited to try when we were younger. How better off we are for asking questions and failing physics and picking up the phone in ways we will never be fully aware of until much later.

My dad was a teenager on the phone that night after the shoot. He spoke a mile a minute all about how he brought all of these shirts to wear and they were all wrong and the guys had to find him this old blue members only jacket that was kind of way too small but it was all they had and everyone said he did a great job and that maybe he would come back and do another episode and the guys all seemed so nice and his posters were up on the wall and it was the greatest day ever pretty much.

This story doesn't have an ending. My dad will likely never retire and if he does, he will continue to work as hard as he does now trying to improve science education. Coming up with experiments to do with children and teenagers. He will continue his outreach, trying to make physics something that young people WANT to study. And maybe he will get into acting someday. Or maybe it was just that one time in the cafeteria in The Big Bang Theory. Because I think, for him, that might have been enough to close that door.

My dad may be a physicist who lives and breathes physics but he's a father and husband and grandfather first, an educator and rapper and friend and brother and son and human being and extra. And he lives and breathes all of that, too. He lives and breathes and exhales and inhales and jumps and puts his hands in the air and says "heyaaaaa" to all of that action.
I was crazy fortunate  to grow up with this man as my example of what real men are like. Loving fathers, partners, who work tirelessly to make the world a better place. Who love without judgement and do not try to "lock up their daughters." (My dad used to hug boys when they came to pick me up for dates. Even when he knew they'd likely break my heart.) Who fight the good fight for the people they love and host screening parties for their Big Bang Theory background artist debut(s). My dad is the whole package of wonderful and interesting and kind and quirky. He has never judged anyone, (including himself) for doing what they love and being who they are. And I am so grateful for every moment and story, every lesson and laugh I've experienced as my father's daughter. I'm grateful for every story, lesson, laugh my children get to experience with him as well.
Happy Birthday, Dad. We love you so much it physically hurts.