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Love Is More Important Than Building Science — A Thanksgiving Story

The Bailes Family In Houston, Texas, 1965

Perspective. It’s a nice word. Fenestration may sound more sophisticated, but understanding the meaning of proper perspective will take you much further in life than all the building science in the world.  With Thanksgiving upon us again, I thought I’d change the pace today and share a bit of the more personal side of my life, some of the stuff that informs my perspective.

My parents split up in 1970 when I was 9 years old.  My dad seemed to be gone a lot before the split, running a business and flying all over the world in the Air Force Reserves, so at first I didn’t notice a whole lot of difference.  I kinda liked the latchkey lifestyle I lived briefly, watching Gilligan’s Island after school and getting in trouble with Bubba from next door.  (The worst thing we did was to experiment with fire, burning a little bit of paper in my mom’s clothes dryer one day and then setting ablaze the grassy field at the end of the street the next.)


Then everything changed—quickly.  My mom got transferred with her company from Houston, Texas to Gray, Louisiana, deep in the heart of Cajun country.  My dad stayed in Houston, an eight hour drive away—which turned to ten hours or more during the sugarcane harvest each autumn.  I was a kid and didn’t understand all the personal and family dynamics at play.

I also had no idea of the sacrifices my dad made to be with us after the move, and the tremendous love that he demonstrated and the loss he must have felt so keenly.  For years, he made that monthly 8+ hour drive on a Friday from Houston to Chauvin.  He got up early in Houston, drove all day, and picked up my two sisters and me after school.

Then we’d drive to my grandparents’ house in Leesville, Louisiana, another six hour drive.  We’d arrive late on Friday night, spend the weekend there, and then leave for south Louisiana again in the early family love perspective thanksgiving heart afternoon on Sunday.  After dropping us off at my mom’s house, he’d make the long, lonely drive back to Houston.

There was a lot of change going on.  Moving to another state.  Experiencing culture shock.  Seeing the family structure I’d known for nearly a decade completely dissolve, to be replaced by something that alternated between exciting and horrifying.


Those Sunday afternoon drives from Leesville back to south Louisiana were some of the saddest days of my life.  I loved my mom and wanted to be with her.  I also loved my dad and wanted to be with him for more than one superluminal weekend a month.

For years, my dad made that trek during the school year to visit us for one weekend a month.  He also came to get us for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In summer, we’d spend two months with him and my grandparents.  The trips back to Chauvin were always hard, especially in winter.  My fifth grade year and the summer afterward was one of the darkest times of my life.

This past week, for the first time, I suddenly realized that it must have been excruciating for my dad, too.  He went from waking up in a house with three kids playing, laughing, falling down, and asking too many questions to living in a house all by himself.  Then we moved a state—and a world—away and he got to see us only once a month.  I chose not to have children myself and never really had kids very close in my life, so I can hardly imagine the suffering he must have endured.

Perspective and gratitude

This is a blog mainly about building science, a mighty important topic.  Why then, you’re probably wondering, am I writing about my childhood? Perspective, my friend.  As much as I love to get together and duke it out in Building Science Fight Club, I also understand that love is more important than building science.  Family and relationships and children matter more than whether we call something a building enclosure or building envelope.  That’s perspective.

Thanksgiving is a time to feel gratitude.  We have an abundance of material wealth, of knowledge, of infrastructure, and even a few good buildings in this world.  We also have people around us who matter more than mean radiant temperature, Grade I insulation, or ducts with no losses.

I’m grateful to my dad for all those monthly sojourns to see us, year after year.  He loved us and demonstrated that love by his actions.  I loved having the two extra days at Thanksgiving and relished those meals around the big round table with the nearly-as-big lazy susan that Pap-paw built.  We ate.  We laughed.  We watched and played football.  We loved one another.

I’m grateful to my mom for her love, for her intelligence, and for her courage.  She handled difficult situations with great skill, and I learned more lessons from her than I was aware of.  When I look back at what she did, sometimes taking care of as many as 9 children in one house while living with a husband (her second, not my dad) who alternated between charming and abusive, I’m in awe of her strength.

This former child is also grateful to those people who helped me through the difficult times after the divorce and the move and the second marriages of my parents.  They helped me try to put it all in proper perspective.  Of course, I was too young to really see the whole picture, but their love and caring helped immensely.

Perspective.  It grows with age.  It shows up in unexpected places.  As with building science, you ignore it at your peril.


My dad died in January 2002, of lung cancer.  My mom died in January 2007, also of lung cancer.  If you haven’t lost a parent yet, I can assure you, it’s not easy.  The pain and emptiness were sometimes nearly unbearable.

family love perspective allison bailes toddler thanksgiving When I was fresh out of college, I met someone who had a big impact on me.  Once, she told me that when she was facing a scary place in a dream, she’d go right in because it was just a dream.  So, rather than try to stifle those feelings of pain and emptiness, I took her advice to heart and went deep into those feelings and experienced them fully.

The other side is so much nicer.  I don’t feel that pain and emptiness anymore, at least not the same way.  I can’t undo the loss, but I can look within, accept it, and learn from it.  I feel grateful now — grateful for having known my parents as long as I did, grateful for all the loving people in my life, and grateful for having gained a bit of perspective over the years.

As is usually the case, there’s more to this Thanksgiving story than I’m telling you.  I experienced an unexpected loss this week and was surprised by it in a number of ways.  I grieved—am grieving—for the loss, but more important, I’m grateful for the experience and grateful for the new insight about what my father must have felt four decades ago.

I’ll still rant and rave here in the Energy Vanguard Blog, as I’m wont to do.  I’m sure I’ll go over the top with some articles, get some things wrong, and let some comments get under my skin. But please know that I care about people more than I do about houses.

Love is more important than building science.

I hope you have a wonderful, happy, loving Thanksgiving.  If you’re not in the US, have a wonderful, happy, loving Thursday.  I’m grateful to have so many of you here reading my words, the silly, the angry, the informative, the scary, and the poignant.


In 1998, I graduated from the University of Florida with my PhD in physics.  Both my mom and dad attended.  They hadn’t seen each other since 1983, when I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree.  In 1998, neither was married, and they had a good time reconnecting at my graduation.

family love perspective mom dad thanksgiving

In fact, it was so good that my dad came back to Florida later to visit my mom, and my mom traveled to Houston to visit my dad.  No, they didn’t get back together.  Time had only accentuated some of the differences that drove them apart, but it was wonderful to see them enjoying each other’s company.


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This Post Has 32 Comments

  1. Allison, 

    Thanks for sharing. Maybe your best blog yet. Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Thank you for this lovely
    Thank you for this lovely piece and for the wisdom within it.  

  3. Thanks for sharing the light
    Thanks for sharing the light on the other side of a dark night of the soul. Having been there as well, I now encourage all who face the night to embrace it as freedom is on the other side.

  4. Allison, 

    Thank you. What a wonderful way to begin my day. 
    Happy Thanksgiving and peace to you.

  5. Thank you Allison –
    Thank you Allison – beautifully inspiring.

  6. Awesomely thoughtful and
    Awesomely thoughtful and sincere.  
    I agree with Bill Smith, a great way to begin the day.  
    I had an experience similar to your dad’s- it was really tough at times.

  7. Thanks for the awesomeness
    Thanks for the awesomeness Allison. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially anyone who doesn’t feel they have anything to be thankful for.

  8. Thanks for sharing Allison.
    Thanks for sharing Allison. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  9. This helps explain why you
    This helps explain why you are one of my favorite building science guys – the love comes thru in your writing. We are a some total of many parts, much of which we learn as children. The love of your parents toward you helped make you who you are today. God bless you and help you thru this present grief.

  10. Thanks for digging down and
    Thanks for digging down and sharing what most people won’t. It is an inspirational story for Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. Thanks for your story and your regular blog. Your passion always shows.

  11. What a wonderful piece. Much
    What a wonderful piece. Much insight and wisdom in it. Can’t wait to get one of your classes! I love the passion you have for life and building sciences.

  12. Thank you for sharing Allison
    Thank you for sharing Allison, your words are inspiring and touching. I send you warm wishes and hope you and your family have a great Thanksgiving.

  13. Thanks so much for sharing
    Thanks so much for sharing this part of your family history with us, Allison, as well as your reflections on these things. While you haven’t ever published an article quite like this before, you’ve still alluded to a number of these sentiments in the past, so I feel I’ve caught many other glimpses of who you are and how you view these kinds of things. And I am very sorry for your recent loss, and hope you are doing well this Thanksgiving. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, Allison, and thanks for all your fine writing this past year, something all of us are very thankful for. 

  14. Thank you Allison. Building
    Thank you Allison. Building Science types often seem insistent on being right all the time, which we can’t obviously be. It comes from our passionate belief in a better world through better buildings. Thank you for reminding us that passion and perspective are necessary in all aspects of our lives. Warm wishes for a holiday that will, hopefully, help heal your grieving.

  15. Very well said, Allison. In
    Very well said, Allison. In this day and age, perspective is often difficult to maintain–your thoughts are refreshing. Cherish what you have NOW. It won’t always be here to appreciate.

  16. Great article Alison.&amp
    Great article Alison. 
    I was suprised to learn that Bubba lives in texas. 
    Thought he only lived in La! 
    Sorry for the loss of your parents. Its a hard thing to deal with, but is the last lesson they teach us. 
    learning to deal with the loss & the insight shows the earlier lessons they taught us stuck with us. 
    Happy Thanksgiving to you & yours. And to everyone else.

  17. Nice piece. I lost my dad in
    Nice piece. I lost my dad in 2007, and is the toughest thing I’ve ever tried to overcome. Anyway, always grateful for your posts, they make me a better builder.

  18. Thank you so much for all the
    Thank you so much for all the great comments. It’s always a little scary to bare your soul to the world, and I woke up this morning wondering if I really should have hit the Publish button in the early AM before going to bed. What if I didn’t get the right mix of darkness and light? Maybe I should just stick to less personal topics.  
    Your comments have affirmed that I was right to put this out there. Thank you.

  19. Allison, 

    Very nice perspective, and thanks for having the courage to post something personal. I wish you well with your recent loss. It’s unfortunate that sometimes it takes a loss to more fully realize your blessings.

  20. We all have our losses and
    We all have our losses and struggles, Allison. Thanks for sharing yours and getting the good out of them. Happy Thanksgiving!

  21. Allison, what a beautiful
    Allison, what a beautiful story. So clear where your passion and caring comes from. Two parents who loved you very much. Happy Thanksgiving to you.  
    – Nora

  22. Allison, Thank you for
    Allison, Thank you for sharing your story. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.  
    I was moved by your photos of cryptic messages within and upon buildings and how these images relate to the message of your article..that love is more important than building science. As a kid, I was the little helper while my dad remodeled our kitchen…an intersection of building science and love. One of my fondest memories is our leaving secret messages on the walls before we (he) put up the cabinets. Thank you for bringing that memory back into my life of this day.  

  23. Happy Thanksgiving, my friend
    Happy Thanksgiving, my friend. I, for one, am thankful to know people like you. Grace, courage, passion and perspective.

  24. Thank you, Allison. It was
    Thank you, Allison. It was 1968 for me; I was 8. My father would cry those Sundays, driving my brother and sister and me back to our mother’s house. I am grateful to you for sharing. Happy thanksgiving.

  25. Allison, what a beautiful and
    Allison, what a beautiful and personal post that resonates with many of us in so many similar ways about family. I just lost my Father in April, and I miss him dearly. I now after years of writing condolence letters to friends can now truly relate to another’s loss. 
    As I read your post, I thought of my parents divorce when I was a young adult, and the analogy to relationships and building (and even sewing as I’m quilter), “measure twice, cut once”. Every relationship, every cut, even every well thought out efficiently planned building doesn’t always work the first time. We continue to find a better way and hopefully love our mis-takes and lessons along the way. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

  26. When I saw this article,
    When I saw this article, written over Thanksgiving, I had a new perspective of you, Allison – you LOVE to write. How nice for all of us, and you too, that you write so well that touching stories and building science articles are all a great pleasure to read. Thanks.

  27. That was very powerful
    That was very powerful Allison – thank you for sharing! I agree that perspective on life is so important and to keep that in mind at all times. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  28. Great article Allison. My
    Great article Allison. My parents split when I was a baby. I lived with my Mom every school year in MA and lived with my Dad every summer in MI. The first time I saw the two of them in the place was at my High School graduation. You don’t realize how much work your parents put in to spend time with you until adulthood (when you have your own responsibilities). To this day I still have to decide which family to visit during the holidays which is hard because I love them both so much. Thanks again.

  29. Beautiful post, Allison. As a
    Beautiful post, Allison. As a parent whose own child is going through some of what you experienced, I can only hope my son emerges with the same healthy perspective and appreciation for what really matters. Love is love, loss is loss. Happy holidays.

  30. I remember meeting your
    I remember meeting your mother after Dad’s trip to Florida. You are 100% right, I do believe that was one of the happy moments for them both and I’m thankful that they were able to come back to each other as true friends before it was to late.

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