Thursday, April 29, 2010

lost in different translation...

My dad is a genius.

No, really, he is. He’s a card carrying member of Mensa. The International High IQ Society. Which is pretty darn cool. IntenseGuy the other day had a blog post about the Hubble Telescope, wishing it a Happy Birthday, if you will. I mentioned to him that it was my dad’s patent that allows the mirroring system to work on the Hubble. Fact is, all mirrors now sent on space missions are because of my dad’s input to the scientific world. He's got thirty-four current patents under his name. Neat stuff.

Growing up, this didn’t mean much to me. I knew dad went to work. And then he came home. We had a pretty normal nuclear family. It was right out of Better Homes & Garden Magazine. A family of four with both parents, one son, one daughter, a dog, two cars, ranch home and a television. We went on family vacations the week after school was out. The car would be loaded, camper hitched to the back and off we would go for two weeks into the great American countryside.

To complete the picture, my mother was even a Home-Ec teacher. She wore aprons at home. We had church ice-cream socials. They had bridge parties. My brother and I would bring out the cocktail nuts, say a joke to their friends and then go to bed.

We were the typical American family.

When my brother and I got older we started to understand that my dad was more than a little smarter than our friends' dads. He had a scientific mind. He was a scientist, so that worked out well for him. He could figure shit out. When solving a problem, he would not only solve the problem at hand, but found ways to improve the original design. Routine jobs became science projects.

I hung around my dad a lot. My mom too, but I liked to putz around with him. Each day was a learning experience. I re-seated my first toilet when I was five. I knew all the tools in the tool box and their uses by seven. I helped him re-roof the house at nine. I was mowing the yard with the rider mower when I was ten and learned how to drive when I was twelve. We planted award-winning gardens. With his guidance I learned the value of money and bought my first rental at nine. I learned a plethora of things from my dad. He was, and still is, a wealth of knowledge.

When I was sixteen the family started weekly sessions with Doctor Nausbaum. He looked just like you might envision a Doctor Nausbaum to look. Mousy brown hair, big glasses, slight in stature but he didn’t miss to many meals. He had facial hair, but that wasn’t uncommon in the late 70’s. Our family scheduled weekly sessions with him to help facilitate our family communication.

You see, since my dad had such a great mind, he didn’t know how to communicate outside of the scientific world. He didn’t understand ‘feelings’. He had a hard time getting his mind around the soft sides of emotion. My mom was the lovey-dovey one to us kids. My dad was the man in the family. And up until our own free thinking ways, we never questioned it. It’s just the way dad was. But then we started to realize that our dad was different and there was a break in translation.

It not bad being different, at all. But you still need to have the communication skills at hand to well, converse. We couldn’t talk at his level and he had absolutely no understanding of ours. Enter Doctor Nausbaum.

Doctor Nausbaum had this annoying trait. He would rub his beard and sort of hummm, and say, hmmmmm (as if in aggreement) ….so how does that make…you…feeeell? Hmmm?”

It made me want to scream. Or tear my hair out. Or as I just heard a line in the movie The Answer Man, chew my arms off at my wrists.

I can still hear his voice in my head. I can still see him rubbing his beard. I can still see his beady little eyes as he watched our family. I can still hear the Ka-ching in his head as he said “Come back again next week. We’re making progress.”

Progress? Please.

The sessions did have a benefit. It got all of us together at least once a week at that point. Me being a junior in high school, I had places to go; people to see. My older brother? He had even more places to go; more people to see. Doctor Nausbaums was not high on our list. But it succeeded in getting the entire family on the same page to understand that we disagree on different subjects. My dad would never fully understand how I resented not getting the message that one of the Daves had called, not being allowed to go to the basketball games as a punishment or missing ski club because of the Doctor Nusbaums sessions. And in turn I can honestly say in turn that I’ll never understand the process of how his brain works.

Over the years I’ve done a pretty good job translating what he says and does into human-oid terms. But sometimes my brother and I will share a shrug over the dinner table when visiting that equates to, “That’s dad for ya’.” After you Alfonzo.

I was replacing a light fixture in the hallway. It’s an old house; very old. 105 years old to be exact. The wiring in places has been replaced and in others it hasn’t. This particular light was on a four way switch. I understand basic wiring and can easily follow a diagram, yet I couldn't get this fixture to work. One switch would have the light hot all the time and another wouldn’t work. Run down two flights of stairs, turn off the power, go back up two flights and change the wiring around, run back downstairs turn the power on and let’s have a go again. Different problem but still not right. down two flights of stairs, turn off the power, go back up two flights and change the wiring around, run back downstairs and turn the power on and let’s have a go again. Still not solved.

By the fifth or sixth attempt, not only was I getting an excellent stair master workout, but I was getting a little frustrated. I called my dad. He’d know what to do, I was sure of it.

“Dad…I need your help. I can't quite figure out this wiring.” I asked.

“OK. What have you done so far?” came the fast reply. He perked up with the knowledge that his knowledge was needed.

“Black to black, white to the other wire, green to ground, second black to black and well….I must have mixed up the travelor. But it’s not working.”

“So there’s two wires from the ceiling, but four in the light?”


“And it’s a 3 bulb fixture?”

“Yes. But one stays on all the time and it’s not supposed to.”

“Did you change the wires?”

Duh. Many times. “Yes.”

“Did you…blahblahblahblah….” while he was asking all the did you questions, I started daydreaming and thought about the wiring and figured it out on my own. He didn’t give me the answer, but listening to his questions made me realize where I had made the mistake.

“Thanks Dad. I got it. I think I know the problem.”

“Are you sure? But….“, he hesitated, “I didn’t tell you what to do yet!”

His scientific mind had made my problem more than what it was. I just needed to attach the 3 wires to the same lead. No worries. It worked.

But that’s my dad. What he thinks is the easy fix is actually the hard way around. That’s okay. I’m older now. I get it. I understand that we see things differently. We process differently. We’re different.

He’s Mensa.
I’m not.

But I’ve got a better arsenal of common sense….so it works out.

Plus I beat him in Scrabble now three times. I wrote it down. It's a big deal. It is. Nobody beats dad at Scrabble. The game was almost made for him. The first time I caught him re-adding the scores because the game had been close. Very close. He’s one of those Scrabble players where he’ll play one letter in between 3 words and get 42 points. Tough cookie that one, my dad.

Maybe someday I’ll get to be a card carrier of Mensa. I'd wear that ring proudly. But I highly doubt that will happen. And I'm okay with that. However, I can always dream. And I can hear the voice in my head...

'But how does that make you feeeeeelll?'


  1. I really enjoyed your post. Sounds like such a lovely family. Poor dad, having trouble communicating, but at least mom and dad made an effort to fix that problem. Both my mom and dad have passed away, so it was nice to hear your story. Have a lovely weekend.

  2. Wonderful post. You are very good at painting a picture with your words. I could *see* everything you described so well...the cocktail parties to the "doctor" the phone call with your dad. I really enjoyed this! :)

  3. Loved this. I aint a genius by no far stretch tho I do have a few patents. I am alot like your dad. To us things are black and white and nuts and bolts. We tend to take things literally. Some folks see a beautiful car and others only wonder what makes them tick. The artist and writers of the world paint their vision of the world while folks like your dad open the eyes to the universe. It takes all kinds to make this world go round.

  4. Awesome post, Jane. I love the way you know your Dad well enough to read him, even over the phone. My husband is one of those science nuts (even though he is actually an engineer) that receives all this email info etc...and is intune with whatever is going on in space etc. I can't wait to tell him about your Dad's contribution with the mirroring system, he will be more than impressed...heck, I'm impressed and I don't have a scientific mind!

  5. My ex has a complicated engineering mind but no communication skills. Sounds like you got the best of both! I so admire your fix-it skills.

  6. I feel your pain, and your pride. My dad, an engineer by career but truly a physicist, mathmetician and computer designer. I write about this very subject in my memoir I'm working on, how as a teenager who had a bit of trouble with algebra asking dad for help started out well and often times ended badly, mostly we think differently and we communicate very differently. He will absolutely love the idea that I have communicated with the daughter of they guy who designed mirroring systems for space ... it is dad's love (he worked at NASA and AIMS research center for a bit). You though are so much more mechanically inclined than I, I would have likely burnt the house down trying to fix the light fixture, or sat in the dark.

  7. :) I'm really flattered to mentioned in your blog. :)

    My Dad went to MIT and is a Mechanical Engineer. He has NO patience with someone that doesn't know the difference between a Phillips and a Blade screwdriver. He can recite the loads and fatigue factors for every metal alloy that has ever been created. He knows why stainless steel is stainless.

    :) His sense of humor is/was rude and crude. He does the Sudoku puzzle every morning but doesn't understand why I would "waste my time" doing the Crossword puzzle.

    I fortunately have his mechanical bent - my PhD brother doesn't and is derided for not knowing how to screw a lightbulb in. I won't mention that I carry a certain card - except to say, I know you could too, if you wanted to.

  8. Seems to me you have managed to learn perfect communication with your Dad. Wonder if that automatically gets you a card?

  9. it is funny as girls our relationships to our fathers. I wrote a blog about mine called Unforgettable. Because unlike you, I followed in my dad's footsteps in becoming a dentist and working with him for over twenty years. But my dad is a "mensa" too and so somehow you never feel internally that you measure up somehow. I also realized after having my own son that we as women will never understand how the XY mind thinks. We are female and operate from a more feeling perspective than analytical. But somehow they are always our dads and we admire and love them because they have always tried their best, within their capabilites , to understand their little girls...we are scientific things that even the greatest scientific Mensa mind can't figure out!

  10. Hahaha. I don't think it takes a genius dad to not understand each other! It took me a long time to understand that my dad and I just 'process' things differently as well. Maybe not as extreme as you and your dad! Lovely story. I'm wondering how your mom dealt with it! :)

  11. wonderful story and so lovingly told. i want you for my daughter. wonder if i can get one of those rings on ebay? :)

  12. if you can rewire a light fixture without blowing up your house or losing a few fingers to 3rd degree burns, i think you rock. do they make rings for that?

  13. daughter of a MENSA dad.. how cool is that? like having Superman for dad. Great post!

  14. Wow, you know your father soo well. I don't think I could ever know my dad that well, he is very closed up about a lot of things.

    Wonderful post, I enjoyed it a lot!

  15. Hey Nancy, I smiled and nodded all the way through this. I have to say my own experiences of therapists is with experts who were neither side of the coin; neither geniuses nor happy rounded people. My own self-awareness proved more useful. Thanks for sharing this one, I enjoyed it. Indigo

  16. Hmmm glad i never had to go to one of those 'hmm how does it feel guys'
    sometimes i wish i had an IQ higher than 80 but as they say, ignorance is bliss!
    I have a lot of friends that are super smart and i think they just don't have time for feelings with all the brilliance that dances around in their little heads!
    I really enjoy reading your posts and have added you to my i love these posts roll on my home page!

    maybe you would like to visit mine? It's a wacky, funny blog that would make a 4 year old jealous cause of it's know you wanna

    thanks for making me laugh and for the support

  17. Ha! I channel Dr. Nussbaum in my conversations with people. But I do it for free. They seem to like it. Any excuse to talk about themselves, really. ;-)

    Yes, you actually have the advantage because you're smart AND you get along with people/function well in society. You lucked out.

  18. Did you change your header graphic? It looks nice.

  19. @Me - Thanks for the compliment! That made my day! :-)

    @Simply Suthern - That is the truth. It DOES take all kinds! How fascinating that YOU have patents as well! I'd love to know what they are! Hmmm? Share?

    @Intense Guy- :-) Well I'm glad that you're wasn't actually my intention, but it's a nice side affect!

    @DrSoosie- Loved your comment. And so true.
    Now, I have this little problem with this tooth way back here on the top.....:-)

    @Lifebeginsat30ty- Nothing ever fazed my mom. She was the soft rock in our family. God bless her. :-)

    @Kim- I think you can find everything on ebay at one time or another! Wouldn't that make a great conversation starter..."Nice ring? What's it stand for?" "Mensa" "Mens what?" :-)

    @SingleDatingMommy- I think that they should!!!! I'll buy several and hand them out to my friends!

    @The Naked Writer- Thanks for stopping by! Glad I gave youi a bit of a chuckle. Kindof like the chickle I got from your screen name! I'll be over. Anyplace that makes a 4 year old jealous has my name written all over it!

    @Marvin the Martian - I'll remember that free part for the future. You just never know when I might need a little psychoanalysis! (oh...and thanks for the compliment. It's nice to know that I can even fool you!)

    And yes...I DID change the graphic. It was a photo I took of Lake Erie a few weeks ago that I used as a black and white for that gloaming post. I tweeked the colors a little from the original. I'm glad you noticed! I'm trying a few new things.

    Thanks everyone (as always) for all your fabulous comments. I love hearing them. As my daughter would say, "You Rock!"


  20. This was so entertaining! Wishing you a very happy mother's day.

  21. Haha. My dad and I were the exact opposite. I was always the book-smart, analytical one. My dad was the down-to-earth, common-sense one. While he wasn't one to really pick up a book, he could do pretty much anything he set his mind to. Underwater welding. Flying an airplane. Training horses. Repairing heavy machinery. You name it. I would always make fun of him, though, when he couldn't spell my list of words that I'd bring home for my fourth-grade spelling test. It wasn't until I got older that I realized how smart my dad really is.

  22. What a lovely entry. Thank you for reminding me of people's different thought processes. Just found your site and thoroughly enjoyed your posts. Happy day!

  23. very lovely and caring people in the world like in this blog.i am very happy to read is full of many personalities like this.Happy day! and wish good luck.


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