What do Binoculars, Golf Clubs and PC computers have in common? Well they are all part of any given conversation with my Dad.
My sense of enjoyment for all things in nature, I got this from my father. A graduate of Oregon State, he spent several summers working as a fire watch; climbing up into the lookout towers of the forests near Corvallis. He definitely had plenty of time to hone his skills, identifying many birds not just by sight but by their calls. He graduated with a degree in Forestry and went back home to Indiana. He paused there just long enough to enlist in the US Air Force. He eventually wound up at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, AZ. He met my mother, married and his first child (me) was born before his obligation of service was finished. He packed us all into the car, even my Mom’s parakeet and we headed back to Indiana for a visit, but never left! His desire to work as a Forest Ranger was not as strong as his desire to be near his family of farmers with their roots planted deep in the Midwest.
His years of college education did not go to waste. Using an old telescope he’d purchased at some farm sale or possibly an “Antique Shop”…we’d crouch in the brush waiting to spot some of the avian life that populated our area. I soon learned the difference between a Hairy Woodpecker and the Downy variety…and many others in that family. I learned the calls of so many birds as we patiently waiting to see the feathered features, lured by their sweet greetings.
Eventually the old telescope was replaced with some decent binoculars, but the joy of spotting a rare bird or even old familiar friends each season, was always part of my relationship with my Dad.
Of course as I grew a bit older the thrill of spotting a Purple Martin was replaced by seeing the cute boy up the road that I’d hoped would ask me to dance. His house was within range of the scope as well…and a much more interesting view for an adolescent female.
As I reached college age, I used my father’s lack of participation in his chosen field to ridicule him. He’d been terribly disappointed that I had not accepted a work scholarship to the University of Arizona. I told him I had “no idea” what I wanted to do just yet and did not want to “waste the funds.” When he pressed me, I took the cheap shot. I reminded him that he had not exactly used the four years he’d spent at Oregon State to any great purpose. Unless he considered dragging his daughter out to sit and get eaten alive by mosquitoes, while watching for some weird birds he was chasing, as good use of his tuition money.
That did end the discussion and put a damper on our relations for a bit as well.
My father has been not the most communicative parent. I usually call him and our phone conversations revolve around my latest new bird sighting or how the weather is affecting his golf game, but mostly about computer issues. My siblings and I joke about the fact that to keep our father on the phone for more than a few minutes, we have to talk on a subject related to computer programs! If we call with a real problem to be solved, Dad will spend hours; tirelessly searching the Microsoft pages and emails us with suggested solutions.
Dad’s growing passion for computing and all things related eclipsed his desire to watch birds. He quite literally began on the ground floor of his local bank’s launch of computerization. I remember seeing the first UNIVAC type computers at his bank. With two big drives on the top, looking like some sort of gigantic robot eyes, they were a bit daunting!
Dad was so proud when he took all of us downtown to the main bank to see these marvels in person. The units were so large, that only one section at a time could be brought up to the Data Processing floor in the elevator. They were all behind glass, in a special air-conditioned room too. Only the key punch station and a small monitor were out in the main area. This was in 1964 and was only the beginning of a romance with hardware and software that lasted the rest of his working career and on into his retirement years.
A small local bank was where he wound up working when he decided to stay put and live close to the place he’d been born. Eventually a move to a larger bank, in a bigger town, enabled Dad to attend the NCR computer school in nearby Dayton, Ohio. He had a clear aptitude. Dad’s enthusiasm for learning kept him alert enough to make the drive back home in one piece too. He did confess to hanging his head out the window of his VW Bug, using the cold night air to keep awake during the wee hours, after his training classes in the evenings.
I remember playing with Dad’s programming templates and drawing tools. I thought the plastic shapes were interesting. I would trace around the curlicues and odd shapes to create some truly unusual art that could rival some of Picasso’s work during his Cubism period. My dad seemed to prefer the water colors and oil paintings of his mother’s work. He suggested maybe I would benefits from study with her a bit during the summer.
While I did spend time painting with Grandma, one of my summers was spent at the 2nd National Bank of Richmond, Indiana doing keypunch work.
To earn some spending money and probably to keep me out of trouble too, my Dad arranged for me to do some data entry a few days a week. While my girlfriend donned a Dairy Delight T-shirt, slightly stained with cherry sundae mix, I got to dress up my nice Bobbie Brooks outfits and work at the bank. This air of sophistication gave me such a thrill I didn’t mind the monotony of typing names and addresses into the punch cards that would update the computer records of the banks’ customers.
Dad’s love of computers knows no boundaries! On a visit to my home in Arizona one winter I knew that he’d turned a corner, when instead of his golf bag, he’d brought his “Ozzie”!
Dad’s first portable was the Osborne 1, which featured a 5 inch (127 mm) 52-column display, two floppy-disk drives, a Z80 microprocessor, 64k of RAM, and could fit under an airplane seat. It could survive being accidentally dropped and included a bundled software package that included the CP/M operating system, the BASIC programming language, the WordStar word processing package, and the Super Calc spreadsheet program. He proceeded to share all of this with me and anyone else he could con into sitting by his side while he demonstrated this marvel.
Suddenly I was back in my childhood sitting with my dad, but at a desk, not on a tree stump. I heard a familiar humming sound, but it was from a machine not the little Ruby-throated birds or pesky insects circling in close to suckle my blood. My attention span stretched to the max as I struggled to keep up with all I was seeing and hearing. The only thing missing was the itchy mosquito bites!
In my second pass at college I discovered Apple computer products! My Dad and I were now on separate paths. He preferred PC computers that would allow him to tinker around with their code and programming… My Macintosh offered no such opportunity.
Conversations during this phase of our lives were shorter due to the limitations on subject matter outside the realm of DOS programming. Fortunately Windows replaced the PC operating systems. When I out grew my old Mac, it was replaced with a new IBM PC that ran Windows programs! Dad was back in the role of being my personal computer support person. On more than one occasion he did walk me through some tricky spots and get me back in business quickly.
Until recently I never appreciated just how much I retained from my early years “bird watching” with my dad. Moving to the Pacific Northwest has provided me with a veritable bird sanctuary right in my own back yard.
I am excited to call my Dad and regale him with my sighting of a Pileated woodpecker chipping away on the Alder tree outside my bedroom window. Our computer discussions now involve a discussion of whether or not he will install the latest Windows operating system on any of his computers. He has several machines and still enjoys tinkering around with them. But at the age of 85 he has other concerns. Like whether or not he will endure this new chemo therapy or just let nature run its course.
Happy Birthday Dad, I love you! And I hope we will have many more conversations. Any topic will be fine too…birds, golf, the weather or even the latest computer article you just read.