Friday, January 02, 2009

What I Want To Do

When I was a little boy, I dreamed of the day that I would grow up and be a scientist, a robotics scientist that could breathe life into my favorite Sesame Street characters, starting with Ernie.

What happened?

Life, I suppose, is the easiest answer—a dismissal for sure, but truthful. I never was a good student, but I was doing ok until I got to high school. The seeds were planted, and by then I had the ear-marks of a drop-out. It took me three years of college until I did just that.

What a poor wandering lost soul I was.

I know now that this was all on my parents. A child of multiple divorces, living with an alcoholic father and step-mother, both too self-absorbed to be bothered, except to throw tantrums when evidence of their failure arrived in the form of report cards. Sure, I had every bit to do with each decision I made, but I was a rudderless ship, and I bashed myself for not supplying one of my own. But now I'm a parent I know that I was still a child, more so than any of my peers. I never grew up until I got married if I were to be perfectly honest, and in many ways I still am.

This could never happen to my sons. I—we, my wife and I both—pay attention. We're involved. There is no way that they will be wandering the early like Cain in Kung Fu when they graduate from high school. They've got partners in this life. They'll never be alone as long as we live.

I remember my physics class in high school. The teacher, Eldon Dennis, was a bit flabbergasted that I would have even attended in the first place. I was just awful. I didn't care a lick for hard work, analysis, mathematics. I was the anti-student. Yet there I was in a class with the best and the brightest. And yet I stuck with it. I would have failed, but the assistant at the time sold me a copy of the final exam.

Ever since then, I've thought that physics was simply beyond me, even though I went on to college (my second college) and got through Calculus II without much difficulty. In fact, after Calc II, I was beginning to think I had missed my calling, since the solving on an equation gave me such satisfaction. And really, until I had taken Calc, I didn't realize just how real-life math is. By that time, on the brink of graduation, it was too late to get serious about it.

So here I am, a forty four year old man who thinks he's still in his teens, thinking that I should have traveled another path. It was clear what I wanted to do when I was a kid, pining to make fantasy come to life. But I have to wonder… even now, is it too late? The answer is a bit complicated, but I have to think that it's not. I'm roughly half way through with this life, so that leaves another half for a do-over.

I want to sit down at my computer and draw a design, then I want to build my machine with movable parts, complete with gears and levers. I want to build an engine—and not just the engine, but the tools that make the parts of the engine, and the tools that make the tools that make the parts of the engine—and perhaps a trebuchet in my back yard to hurl dead squirrels into the woods. This might be my father working his way out of me, but I realize now that this is what I've always wanted to do.

Today I build software. Whoopdie-doo. It's kind of sad, but the only reason I still do it is because it pays the bills. I'm not complaining. If it weren't for software, I don't know where I would be, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be sitting in a house that I call my own. The problem with following your heart is that you have to be in touch with yourself enough to know what your heart is.

My wife started a new tradition this New Years day. Each of us wrote down our resolutions on index cards and put them into a box which we will open next New Years day. My wife wants to write my grandmothers a letter every month, and my five-year-old Emmett wants to learn Kung Fu (Kung Fu Panda, if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the best movie made in a long time—Jack Black is perfectly cast!), and Jackson (nine) is keeping his a secret for now (but I know it has something to do with learning basketball). Mine is two-fold: start into the process of night-school or online educating myself in mechanical engineering, and to write a short story of at least three thousand words and submit it for publication.

No more goofing around.


Beth said...

I always do resolutions, but this year as I said at my blog, it's just the fitness thing. I want to be fit, damn it!

I haven't seen "Kung Fu Panda" because my kids are now teens, but I love Jack Black! The teenage boy who lives inside of me adored "Tropic Thunder."

Toni Anderson said...

Hmm... I'm still thinking mine through. I tend to build on mine and that is fabulous, but sometimes we need to throw in new things--although for me it will never be mechanical engineering :)

Minnesotablue said...

Scott: It is never to late> I went back to school at forty years of age and obtained mt nursing degree. I had always wanted to be a registered nurse but due to lifes circumstances I was unable to. I look back at those college years and they were some of the best years of my life. I was excited to be around young people and older folks and soaked in their diverse opinions and life experiences.But most of all it was the LEARNING! I am going on two years of retirement now and am enrolling in classes again. You will never regret starting a new career or improving on your current one.

magnetbabe said...

This is a post that hits really close to home for me. Sure, your parents should have been much more involved. But to me, the sadness in this post is that a teacher didn't see this spark within you and try to build it into a fire. Perhaps I am imposing my own experiences, my parents were always supportive of me following my dreams (which were far from fully formed in high school), but I had a couple crummy teachers. My high school calculus teacher was completely useless, I got a C and some advice from her after first trimester: drop out of math and take health. It wasn't until college that I learned calculus the right way, which made me realize I could do what I really wanted. Who knows where I would be without a wonderful college professor to undo the damage of my high school math teacher.

When I was teaching physics in grad school, my very favorite people to teach were the "second career" students. They were so serious, so ambitious. They didn't want to screw up their college education the second time around (or for many, the first chance they got after working for 20 years at a job they hated). My advice to you is to make absolutely sure you build a strong foundation. Even if you have to retake some courses you've already had, review an old calculus text book beforehand. Invest in a used copy of Feynman's Lecture on Physics. It will be difficult to be discouraged if everything is a piece of cake to you!

Thanks for stopping by my place. I thought you were upset with me. I sent you an email several weeks back and never heard anything. Don't know if you changed your mail or what.

The Zombieslayer said...

This could never happen to my sons. I—we, my wife and I both—pay attention. We're involved. There is no way that they will be wandering the early like Cain in Kung Fu when they graduate from high school. They've got partners in this life. They'll never be alone as long as we live.

And thus is why you're a good parent. I already knew this as the way you are involved in their lives, like in sports for example. That's quality time, and the #1 thing about being a parent is quality time with your kids. Everything else is secondary. Everything else can be fixed. Time, if you waste it, you don't get it back.

As for Calculus II, you got through it without difficulty? You're a heck of a lot smarter than you think. I'm a Mensa member and there was no way I could have gotten through Calculus I without tutors. No way. Granted that math isn't my forte, but still...

44 is not old. That KFC guy was something like 70 when he started KFC. I don't think there are too many people in this country who don't know what Kentucky Fried Chicken is.

Today I build software. Whoopdie-doo. It's kind of sad, but the only reason I still do it is because it pays the bills.

Join the club. I do the same thing, and it's not very rewarding. The money's good, there's no job security whatsoever, and you're not exactly surrounded by hot babes.

I should have been a musician.

Scott said...

Beth - I wonder if you wouldn't like the movie anyway. It really was an excellent story.

Toni - I don't think you need to have any resolutions after getting your novel published. Congrats!

Blue - Thanks for the encouragement!

Nat - Interesting take on my teacher, and what an awful one you had. Unbelievable. I stop short of giving my teacher a hard time because I have always been an enigma--I want to learn but I made no effort to learn; I was there but I wasn't there. In the end, he told me that he was always fond of me, and he had me in his computer course and was happily surprised that I was so good at it. He once quipped that it was weird that in the computer course I was one of his best students. In those days people could be more honest without getting sued!

Thanks for the book idea. I think I need a book that will get me up to speed on my mathematics, something that will start me right at Algebra all the way through whatever level I need to be at for mech engineering. I know a guy that is a Mechanical Engineer, and he said that they don't use Differential Equations anymore, and use numerical models instead (whatever that means). I'll appreciate any titles you can suggest. My previous schooling will advance me with my prerequisites, but I want to really get it and not just get by.

I sent you an email about the rest. Friends always.

Zombie - Calc II was great but for the very end, which tainted the experience just a little. The teacher found out too late that the final exam would be department-wide, and that the material on the exam would cover more chapters than she had covered. We were going at a chapter class meeting, and she was forced to go to two-a-meeting. I couldn't keep up, whereas before it was just right. But I was just starting to think that a minor in math wasn't out of the question, then Physics would have been on my mind once again.

Thanks for your observation on my parenting. I think just being with your children is the most important thing you can do. Check out the Nannie Diaries. After that, who can feel like a bad parent.

I hear you on music. If I thought I could get away with it (read, had more talent) I would quit and do it today!

Alan said...

What can I say that hasn't been already said? And in the exact same way I would've said it too! lol!

I can reciprocate though, and tell you that YOU sound wonderful.

I would like to mention that it's your insiight that keeps me hooked on you. You know where you've been and who you are. You know your flaws and your strengths. And your responsibilities. And I think you've developed a fuller sense of self-acceptance.

Your inner teenager is coming along very nicely. I say it's perfectly fine. Somebody had to raise him up the right way and you're definitely the man for the job.

Beth said...

Maybe I would like it. I think my daughter wants to see it even though she keeps professing how she's almost an adult. Haha. I'll let you know if I see it. Hey, how the kid who wanted to play guitar doing? Still playing?

Scott said...

Alan - I think I've developed some form of self-acceptance. Of course it helps to be married to someone who adores me (when I'm not being a dick)!

Beth - You'll be entertained at a minimum. My son quit after three lessons. I'll try again later, but it might not be for him and that's ok. I have to remember that my dad tried to fit me into his version of life and it didn't work out, and made me feel bad about being a failure.

Alan said...

*swallows lump in throat*

That's pretty fantastic.

jenbeauty said...

Go for it! I have tons of admiration for you and what you pour into this blog. You express things so well it leads me to believe that you can accomplish your do-over!

Keep us posted!

mr. schprock said...

I think there are a few times in everyone's life when it's "time to make your move." I know several people who have gotten master's degrees in their spare time, that sort of thing. It can be done. Go for it, man!

Jada's Gigi said...

Yay! good for you to have some accountability to those resolutions! You are one of the lucky ones if you have figured out what you want to be when you do grow up...I'm still working on that one. :)

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Mechanical engineering runs strong in my family, like The Force.

My dad worked on Concorde, Hubble and HOTOL: the abandoned High Ornit Take Off and Landing project that ultimately never came to be.

His father worked on the TSR2 and countless hush-hush projects for Vickers after the war. He designed models for the wind tunnel.

I only got interested in these things late. I think my father would have loved for me to get involved in that kind of thing as a teenager.

Now I have a frustrated, impotent desire to build something.

Perhaps I should do it in words.

It's never too late, Scott.

The Zombieslayer said...

Oh, that sucks about the calculus II. Yeah, there's no way I would have passed that if that had happened.

And that's the one thing that I found kids want from their parents - their time. I see parents buying stuff all the time for their kids as an "apology" because they're not spending enough time and I see the emptiness it leaves in children. It's not fulfilling at all.

You spend quality time with your boys. That alone makes you a good parent.