House Master Families Reflect

Children of Masters share their experiences growing up at Harvard

Christa-kids
Keren E. Rohe

The children of the Pforzheimer House Masters­—Lena, Lysander, and Sebastian—discuss their experience growing up in the Harvard community.

A 14-year-old rattles off the names of eight of Harvard’s Houses, listing Pforzheimer, Currier, and Cabot without a second thought. His 12-year-old sister plays on the C-league Pforzheimer House intramural basketball team and participates in the weekly Pfoho craft circle. Their 17-year old brother casually uses Harvard lingo, talking about concentrations, dining halls, and tutors in everyday conversation.

These kids may not be Harvard students yet, but Lena, Lysander, and Sebastian—the children of Pforzheimer House Masters Nicholas A. Christakis and Erika L. Christakis ’86—sound and behave just like average Harvard undergrads, despite their ages—12, 14, and 17 years old respectively.

The children of House Masters face an unusual position, living among college students while observing their parents’ responsibilities firsthand.

House Masters may be bringing their experience and knowledge to the Harvard community, but they are also bringing their families, who can be profoundly impacted by having their doors open to hundreds of Harvard undergrads.

JOINING THE COMMUNITY

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Having moved in to Pforzheimer House last year, Lena and Lysander say they both quickly fell in love with the House—but only after some initial anxiety on Lena’s part. The two are involved in House life: Lysander visits the Pfoho Grille so frequently that the student employees know his burger order, and Lena participates in intramurals and joins Pfoho seniors for movie nights.

Sebastian says his adjustment was more difficult. As a 17-year-old high school student, he is closer in age to the average Pfoho resident and is often mistaken for an undergraduate, he says. But as a junior preparing for college at the Cambridge School of Weston, he says he has less time than his siblings to devote to House activities.

Still, Sebastian says he enjoys the new resources available to him—especially getting homework help and SAT advice from undergraduates—but he adds that it can be challenging to constantly present themselves as the member of a “House Master family.”

Across campus, Sandra F. Naddaff ’75 and Leigh G. Hafrey ’73 have been Mather House Masters for 18 years, so their son Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey ’13 remembers no other way of life. In fact, he says his first memory is frolicking in the Mather House basement. Most of his childhood memories revolve around Mather House, from playing four square with students in the Mather courtyard to playing Linus in the Mather production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

Benjamin’s babysitters were a rotating cast of Harvard students, including former Mather resident David J. Malan ’99, who is the instructor for the popular introductory course, Computer Science 50. Benjamin says he considers Malan a part of his extended Mather family.

“It’s part of our mission to have an intergenerational community,” Dean of Student Life Suzy M. Nelson says. “We think it’s one of our strongest assets.”

KEEPING FAMILY LIFE PRIVATE

Even as the children become an integral part of the House community, they say their parents strive to keep their family life as normal—and as private—as possible.

The daily life of a House Master’s family differs immensely from an average child’s home life. On any given night, hundreds of college students could be in the living room for a Master’s Open House or the Masters could be meeting with tutors or House Committee members.

Many of the House Masters’ residences are even physically connected to undergraduate housing, furthering the sense that the Masters and their family cannot exist as a unit separate from the broader House community.

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