The Thing I Learned
My father and I had a complex relationship. It would have been impossible for it to be anything other than that. He was a genius, I use the term in its literal sense, and I think sometimes that made certain aspects of life incredibly difficult for him.
A few of the things that my father taught me:
- Not to grab your thumb when making a fist.
- To appreciate The Carter Family and Flatt and Scruggs.
- Meters and feet in poetry (which I sadly ignore, but like that I know)
- Julia Child makes it best.
- That it’s important to have a working understanding of technology, otherwise it will become a world of Eloi and Morlocks. In the case that it does, it’s better to not be food.
The thing that most sticks with me is what he taught me about myself. I’m not referring to strength, integrity, or the basic things that we all want our children to have. He taught me and continually told me that I was, and am, intelligent. He strongly believed that my sister and I can and will learn anything, with time and motivation. That we could master anything. The fact that I am smart was drilled into me from a very young age, and in many ways has come to define who I am.
Now, I’m no genius. I’ve had the pleasure/misfortune of knowing several geniuses, and it’s a route I wouldn’t want for myself. When I was young I spent several summers at a camp for smart kids. I had the pleasure of knowing that I was probably the dimmest bulb in the group. But still, I knew I was smart. My dad told me so and to date, he was the most brilliant person I’ve ever met.
That I’m smart is the one thing I’ve never doubted. I know that if given time I can learn anything. It’s how I present myself in interviews. It has become how I judge working relationships. If someone at a job speaks to me like I am not an intelligent person, I know that we can’t work together. If you sincerely believe I’m stupid, you’ve outed yourself as a fool. You can criticize my appearance, my mannerisms, my social graces (or lack thereof); all of these things I may question or even concede that you have a point—but not my intelligence. I have empirical evidence, a genius and a scientist told me so.
There are of course other things I took from my dad. I’ll just leave you with this:
A few years ago I was cleaning out some old boxes and came across a bunch of paperwork from my first laptop computer, the one I took with me to college. My father and I had gone to a store and tested out every machine they had before settling on one. The box of papers contained no less than seven separate floppy disks, each meticulously labeled in his angular handwriting. Put this disk in if you get a blue screen. This is your recovery disk. This disk has these programs. He’d also filled out all my warranty information and left a note about what a solid machine it was and how he thought it would serve me well. I had that laptop for seven years before giving it to a friend. It was still running at nine years. It never got a virus, never blue screened, and I never had to use any of dad’s recovery disks. I saw those disks, that note, and I cried.
Despite our sometimes contentious relationship, my father provided me with the very best safety net. Detailed instructions and a very simple fact: I am smart, no one can change that, it’s who I am. It’s in my genetic code.