Thursday, April 29, 2010
lost in different translation...
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.”
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. So...run 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.
But I’ve got a better arsenal of common sense….so it works out.