This Father’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to my favorite nerd, my dad. To verify whether geek or nerd was a more appropriate term, I double-checked the website DifferenceBetween.net and found the answer here: http://www.differencebetween.net/miscellaneous/difference-between-nerd-and-geek/
What makes Dad a nerd?
From a very young age, Dad has cared little about conforming to social norms but has had a strong drive to excel academically. He’s long felt at home within the realms of math and science yet extremely awkward when expected to make small-talk in a social setting.
Prior to marrying my mom and becoming a father, my dad climbed the academic ladder with ease. He was admitted to a number of ivy league schools, but his final decision took him to arguably one of the most academically rigorous schools in the country: the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he’d been offered a scholarship. Later, an internship with Lockheed took him all the way to California where he was introduced to computers, fell in love with them, and pursued a Masters degree in the new and expanding discipline of computer science at Stanford University.
Then, of course, he met my mom, married her six months later, and welcomed my older sister and me into the world. Dad taught courses at a college in Potsdam, New York. Two years after I was born (1982), he received his PhD. in computer science – his passport to becoming a university professor.
Ultimately, the politics of academia chased my father back into industry where he spent the rest of his professional life as a software engineer.
Today he’s “officially” retired, but he still writes local hiking guides and shares is vast knowledge of the Goldfield Mountains and beyond to his fellow hikers through Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Stanford Alumni, and occasional lectures at local venues. Learn more about him here: www.mile204.us
So what’s it like growing up with a nerd-Dad? From time-to-time there are drawbacks, but nobody’s perfect. Today I prefer to honor my father by sharing some of the unique perks of having a nerd-dad.
First off, to give a little perspective, I was born in 1980 and my sister is 2.5 years older than me, so our childhood was basically the eighties and our awkward teenage years were the nineties. For the kids out there, that meant no cell-phones, no internet (and, when internet did arrive, painfully slow dial-up).
Some of Dad’s Unique and Innovative Ideas
- When audio cassette tapes and tape recorders became affordable and commonplace, Dad sent tape recorders to a handful of our relatives so we could exchange “talking letters.” As a result, we now have several voice-recordings from mine and my sister’s childhood as well as recordings from loved ones who’ve passed away. Also, with the advancement of technology, we’ve been able to digitize them for preservation and (in my case) to create audio montages.
- For much of the eighties, my sister and I lived in Norman, Oklahoma where, in the spring and summer, insect life was abundant. From walking-sticks, to ladybugs, to cicadas, to butterflies, to fireflies, there was much to discover. So Dad gave my sister and me butterfly nets and we’d go out and catch whatever we could. Perhaps it was a little cruel the insects, but putting butterflies and ladybugs in ventilated jars allowed us to marvel at them up close.
- Kite-flying was a favorite activity and perhaps a key introduction to aerodynamics. My sister and I would go with Dad to the park behind our house, firmly grip the string, and watch our kites dance in the wind. Then we’d sing “Let’s go fly a kite,” from Mary Poppins and skip home.
- Dad listens almost exclusively to music composed before the 20th century. He used to play the violin in his school and university orchestras as well. But on occasion happily takes in musicals like Singing in the Rain, My Fair Lady, The Music Man, Les Misérables, and Into the Woods. Musicals were a treat he and my mom could enjoy together, so it’s no surprise I developed a fondness for them too. At age 10, I expressed a strong desire to learn to play piano. In response, my parents bought me an upright and paid for lessons. Later they paid for me to have voice lessons as well. I was never discouraged from playing piano or singing. I could pretty much sing and play piano whenever I wanted.
- Dad has always helped me build things. When we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, there was a tree in the backyard perfectly suited for a swing. So Dad and I worked together to securely attach a rope around the largest, sturdiest branch so my sister and I could take off on magical flying adventures without leaving home.
- When I played Super Mario Bros. for the first time at a friend’s house, I begged my parents to let me have a Nintendo of mine own. But they saw no value in it and instead purchased our first computer: an Apple Macintosh. The machine was very primitive by today’s standards, but it could run learning games like Word Blaster and Math Blaster as well as the classics Oregon Trail and Where in the US in Carmen Sandiego? Then, of course, there was the fun script called Eliza who was a fake “therapist” and basically spat your problems back at you in the form of a question, for example: “That’s interesting. How does that make you feel?” Finally, Dad’s pride and joy, The Rabbit and the Hound, a game of chance he’d cleverly programmed on his own.
- Science fiction entered our world through Dad’s love for Star Trek (the original series) and, as I began first grade, a new series began to air: Star Trek: The Next Generation. Soon it became a Sunday night ritual for my sister, Dad, and me to sit spellbound before the TV while Cpt. Picard, Commander Riker, and Counselor Troy helped navigate the fate of their ship and crew on the USS Enterprise.
- The importance of education has been emphasized in our home as long as I can remember. Of course, my sister and I weren’t gifted enough to earn full scholarships to the university of our choosing like Dad had been , but he never held that against us. There’ve been times I’ve praised him for his vast knowledge and he humbly reminds me of his almost 35-year head-start on me. In other words, the only difference he saw between him and me in the pursuit of knowledge was the additional years he’s been on this earth to learn.
- Dad saves handwritten letters and other papers that are historical or even just paper records of times worth remembering. His mother saved things too, as did many of her sisters. My mom also has letters and other tangible memories tucked away, often written by loved-ones who left this world long ago. I carry on this tradition and so does my sister. The written word is priceless and so is our history.
- I cannot tell a lie – at least not convincingly. My dad isn’t one to put on airs. I don’t know and I’ve never known how much money he makes. He could rightfully call himself “Dr.” because he has a PhD, but that title’s always felt a bit too formal for him. Besides, even if he had all the gold of King Midas, he’d still prefer to live in this house he’s had for nearly 20 years, with his own homemade bookshelves. But beyond all this, he is a man of integrity. He has taught my sister and me integrity as well. It’s virtually impossible for either of us to tell a lie.
When I was growing up, I always thought my dad was the smartest guy in the world. I’d ask him questions about the universe and about God and heaven and even if the answer was nowhere to be found, he’d acknowledge his intellectual limitations but always leave room for imagination and wonder. My dad is a man of a science and a man of God. He’s read the Bible and much of what Carl Sagan had written. He doesn’t see science as a way to disprove the existence of God nor does he see atheism as any less a leap of faith than theism. You can argue all you want, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to say that my dad is the best dad I know!
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!