I am what some would consider an ‘old fart.’ Not quite 45, I have lived a pretty interesting life and grew up in an atypical environment. My father was an engineer and, as such, he had lots of crap. Some of it was really cool crap, like the video recorder that used one inch, reel to reel tape instead of a cassette. He had video cameras all over the place and, of course, computers. He built his first computer in 1974. I will never forget it: it was based on Intel’s first real microprocessor, the 8008. You really could not do much with the computer, but, hey, it WAS a real computer.
His second computer had a video display and a keyboard. And you could program it. How exciting! I soaked up all I could about something called ‘BASIC.’ This was the programming language that the computer understood. I think the first thing I did was type in a number guessing game. Took me hours, but I got it working. Talk about fun. For a ten year old boy who was just in awe over both his dad and technology, this was just amazing.
Now, my father, you have to understand, was not one to show a lot of emotion, and, due to circumstances beyond his control, did not really know how to be a dad. We were strangers and it took many years to build that father-son bond. But, we did and all of that crap he had is the reason.
It was the video machine, the computers, the gadgets, all of it, that influenced me and my direction in life. I wanted to be like him, be able to build things from tiny bits, fix the television when it went on the fritz.
Well, for me, things turned out a bit different. Technology now hates me and I it, but I cannot do without. I never quite got the knack for the tiny bits of crap that he had, but, I found I could do something he could not: Make the computers actually do something. I found my calling. I was actually OK with the software side and he on the hardware end.
For several years, I had the opportunity to work at the same company that he did. Our hours were a little different, but I still got to spend time with him.
Over time, that bond we had forged grew stronger. I found myself, even after I got married and had a child, picking up the phone and asking for advice or just to talk. We didn’t always agree on things, but always had a stimulating conversation. The thing, though, is that we always ended up talking tech or something about space exploration.
My dad passed away, from cancer, in 2005. I miss him a lot and still want to pick up the phone and give him a quick call. The one big regret that I have today is that I didn’t take my son to visit my dad enough. Dad and I didn’t have the normal father-son relationship and I have vowed that my son will. He will know all about me. He will have the relationship that my father and I were never able to experience.
To my dad, I say thanks for putting up with the million questions about all of those tiny bits. For answering many of those questions with an actual thing (like that first computer, it was an answer to ‘dad, how do computers work?’ so, he built one.) Thanks for showing me the wonders of the stars. And, for trying to be a dad. That is all I ever wanted.