I love my dad. He teaches me things.
When I was very young, my father and I would go fly a kite at the neighborhood park. He taught me how to hold the crossbar and run with the kite held up high and then launch it up into the air with the hopes it would catch a wind gust just right and decide to stay aloft. Then we would let out string from the spool until the kite was unbelievably high in the sky and watch it play in the breeze. After a while we switched from kites to model rockets. He and I would spend an afternoon down in his basement workshop- a room for tools, workbenches, and jars full of mismatched screws- and would assemble the rocket from a kit. It was simple enough, attaching the fuselage fins and packing the tiny parachute under the nose section that would bring the whole thing safely back to earth. Once the glue had dried and the decals were all in place we would head to the park for launch. The rockets had different sized engines that would determine how high they flew; an “A” would shoot the ship 100 feet and a “C” could go 1000 or more. My dad made sure we were always observing the safety practices, like standing far enough back before we counted down and pushed the launch button that ignited the engine and sent the craft skyward. The rockets went way higher than the kite ever did.
Once I had a taste for building things my dad started buying me different model sets: wooden dinosaur skeletons, plastic race cars, cutting-edge military jets. I spent hours with him as we glued and painted all the tiny parts that made up these impressive scale models of things one might encounter in life. I remember making a realistic-looking human skull and learning about all the fixed joints that connect the bones in our heads. As my skills grew, the models got more complex and required greater patience. My dad taught me how to construct a ship in a bottle and helped me assemble a Cessna plane with working propeller, wheels, and cockpit door.
After I joined a Cub Scout pack, my father and I would build a car each year for the annual pinewood derby race. You would basically buy a regulation-sized block of wood, carve it into a car shape and slap wheels on it. We would shut ourselves down in the workshop for days as we came up with aerodynamic designs and tested out prototypes. The rules said that each car can weigh no more than five ounces, so the trick was to make a light vehicle and then dig out a hole under the nose and fill it with molten lead, in order to have most of the weight at the very front of the car. I don’t recall ever winning a race, but we did create a sleek black Georgia Tech themed hot rod with a golden tail fin and exhaust pipes that made both of us very proud.
My dad taught me sports as well, from basketball to football to little league baseball. He didn’t just drop me off at practice or play catch with me in the yard, he volunteered to be the head coach of most of my teams. The hours we had spent building rockets and models and race cars gave way to long days and nights spent together on baseball diamonds and basketball courts through the years. I was terrible at anything sports-related to be sure (I have other gifts), but he patiently showed me to keep my eye on the ball while swinging a bat and to roll the basketball off the tips of my fingers to give it a nice arc. I can only imagine the patience my foray into athleticism must have required from him. During baseball games I would sit down in the outfield and pick blades of grass. When it became clear that I wasn’t the most aggressive athlete on the basketball court, my parents started paying me to commit fouls as a way to encourage my competitive spirit. I earned $1 per foul and an extra few bucks if I fouled out of the game entirely. And it worked- when my opponent started dribbling toward me in my zone under the basket I would step forward and karate chop his arm. Coach would smile and say “great job” and my mother and sisters would cheer wildly from the stands as everyone else watched in confusion.
This list could get quite long as my dad has always seemed to be interested in what I am doing and willing to teach me what he knows. When I showed an interest in astronomy, a giant glow-in-the-dark poster of the constellations showed up on my bedroom ceiling. When my reading addiction surfaced he would bring me to the library and let me haul a stack of books home every week. He taught me about lawn care, electronics, engineering, jogging, trees, biology. And computers- we talked about computers a lot. Before the internet was available to the public, my father ran a computer bulletin board system out of our basement that connected users from around the world so they could share files and play games. He showed me how the computer modem used the telephone line (you would actually place the phone headset onto the modem cradle so the computers could talk to each other) and a few years later he and I created a website together for my sister’s softball team.
Of all the myriad educational experiences I’ve had with the man, the one that stands out in my mind is the art of watching football. For forty years my dad has held season tickets to Georgia Tech games- his alma mater and mine. I grew up going to the games with him on Saturdays, as far back as I can remember and all the way up to today. I’ve spent decades sitting next to him, wearing white & gold and eating peanuts in the same seats on the 50 yard line. The players change every few years but the game barely does at all. Our team wins some, loses some. Some years are difficult and others exciting.
And, like in all other things, I’ve been listening intently for the lessons my father can teach me. Arrive early to beat the crowds. Let the ref know when he’s screwed up the call. Treat everyone around you with love and respect, no matter what colors they wear.