Tachometers, photography and making things work
From the time I was about eight, half of everything I did was to impress my dad. I maintained a multiyear renewal on two of the three books on computer programming we had in our small elementary school library. I’d spend mornings and nights sitting in front a screen full of animated, blinking display menus for our IBM clone, trying to create life in the ASCII character set. I kept all of the briefcases he outgrew filled with empty file folders and simulated documents, inventing imaginary companies like “Ventura and Son Enterprises”, drawing structural diagrams displaying all the branches in our corporate hierarchy. Greeting cards to electronics, we did it all. And as he updated his business best so did I with the next round of hand-me-downs: threadbare corduroy blazers and oxfords missing buttons from a thousand applications of heavy starch.
My impulsive attention span grew to new limits as I watched him again and again laying on a remnant carpet dolly under the engine of one of our many Honda Accords. The coveralls, the stained Old Milwaukee nylon jacket, the decaying Nike’s and a quartet of Lawn Boy push mowers all in pieces along the back wall of the garage. Row upon row was every metal screw, washer, latch, and DC motor imaginable, housed in a vast array of hardware store bins. Toolboxes, cut pieces of heat pump hose, ban saws, shoe polishing kits… the inventory of a man who could do anything himself and would have the resources already at hand if the occasion arose. His office was a network of yellowing loafer boxes and fine felt tip pens bound by red rubberbands in a myriad of Minute Maid orange juice cans I’d wrapped in construction paper. The bin for his highlighters was even made out of ten dozen popsickle sticks glued together like an ark. The need to keep everything in case it may be useful later was tempered by his near obsessive desire for order, catalogue, and file.
The older I got, the more things I took apart or modified (and collected), building crude workbenches out of scrap wood to mimic his own hobby rigs. When I got a car and eventually my trailbike, I tried harder and harder to emulate the level of quality and discipline he had in everything he did- from changing the oil to using a straightedge for block lettering VHS tape labels.
In high school I often bitterly complained to my mother that he didn’t understand me or care about my feelings. During college my vague angst hardened into repressed stress, fighting against what I thought was conformity and he called “growing up“. But as the chemical imbalances in my body began to ebb I grew complacent, or tired, and I found I no longer felt the need to overimpress my father or resist him. He just was, and so was I. But I realized that so much of the latter was due to the former, and I came to respect the man who said so little but meant so much.
Sometimes I wish I had been better at sports when I was young, so I wouldn’t exasperate or embarrass him, and we could have a relationship like every other father and son. But then again, if we had a relationship so traditional, would I have grown into things so unique? Everyone has a father, and whether they love him or hate him, whether he cries openly or never says a word, he’s so much a part of who they were, and who they will become. And I think we can’t feel anything but deep reverence for that.