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Goats, gripes, and grasping for greatness
On the subject of kinds of Dads: sports vs. science, safety vs. stereotypes 
1st-Apr-2013 12:28 pm
Have and Hold
My Dad is - ahem! - was a classic nerd. As a child, he took apart clocks to see what made them tick - literally - and built radios out of spare parts. As a college student at Berkeley, Dad was far more interested in the chemistry lab than in the anti-war/social-based protests going on right outside of the building.

As he grew up, Dad was not, however, a solitary nerd. He liked to share in the discoveries of science, particularly of the "hard" sciences of geology, chemistry, and mechanical engineering. He joined the Student Section of the California Academy of Sciences as a teenager, and kept with those guys throughout his life. Their stories of field trips into the desert were full of humor and good science and weird accidents.

In some kind of cosmic balance, Dad held no interest in sports beyond the congenial "I'll sit here with you and watch the playing" attitude towards gentler sports fans like my grandfather. Dad was not particularly clumsy, but not particularly interested in refining his skills, either. Out of paternal duty, Dad volunteered to be assistant coach for one of my very early years of soccer, but he was only there to ensure that the kids played fairly and well, not that we all became sports stars.

No, Dad was not the kind of guy to go play catch, or shoot a few hoops with the kids. He would play outside with us with such things as frisbee, and he was a masterful (to us-as-kids) kite-flier too, but stereotypical sports were not his bag. He was in for the long, slow stroll with the chance to learn something or share something more than a sports score.

If Dad was the one leading some kind of activity with his children (and others' as well), the chances were high that we would end up going hiking, or heading downtown to one of the Smithsonians, or building something random like a tree-platform (not quite a treehouse). In my early high school years, I nearly had the entire Air & Space Museum layout memorized (where do you think I got that kite?), and I could probably have given my own tour of the Gems & Minerals exhibit at the Natural History Museum. I knew how grist mills worked, and the sex life of a pine tree, and could identify pyrite vs. gold at a glance.

My childhood memories with Dad are all doing something, and also as a byproduct, learning something. One of my earliest memories was learning how to replace electrical outlets. We also built - and spraypainted! - a silver tanker car for the train collection. I helped Dad repair and replace wooden parts of the playhouse out in the backyard. These are memories that are solidly in place from before I was 8 years old. My second-place-all-class CO2 car from middle-school shop class was a credit to Dad's lectures on graphite as a solid-state lubricant and a visual testament to his collection of CALTRANS-orange spray paint.

Jump ahead to being 15, and learning how to drive, and the long conversations about clutches, gears, and what steering actually did for angle and direction. He wanted to ensure that I knew the why of driving as well as the how of the process. I still remember doing my first tentative figure-eights around the parking lot, and how agonizingly slow I was, trying to coordinate turning and acceleration together. We switched drivers for Dad to take us home. Instead of leaving, he threw it into reverse and very precisely zoomed around the same course I had done so slowly in first gear. He stopped, looked at me, and said something to the effect of expecting me to be able to pull that very same slalom at 30 mph in reverse before he was confident that I really knew how to drive.

Nowhere in any of our conversations did we talk about muscle cars, or did Dad evidence any stereotypical guy-lust for a good set of wheels. He was far more concerned about practicality and usability than speed and looks. He ensured that I know how to change my own oil, and that I read up on Consumer Reports for safety ratings and repair requirements prior to any initial purchase. My first car was a used sedan. Sedate, stick-shift, safe. And by that time, I was out of college, and knew how to roll-start a car as well as start moving forward in a stick while stuck pointing up a hill at a dead stop - with no rollback.

There's no real point to this post beyond sharing. Dad was there for the learning and the doing and the science. Any sports interests were either from Mom or by accident.
Comments 
5th-Apr-2013 09:19 pm (UTC)
That was really well put...and so very Dad. I became a car aficionado, probably because Dad explained the intrinsic engineering so I could enjoy the total structure, not just the speed. Although, speed is good too.
6th-Apr-2013 01:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing.
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