When I was 7 or 8, I would sit on the floor and struggle with tying my shoes. I couldn’t figure out the real way of tying like most kids had mastered so instead of asking mom I would create two bows and tie them together or if I needed a strong tie, I would ask mom for help. I was always very disappointed in failing this last step in dressing myself. Unfortunately, the Velcro alternative was a half-century in the future.
I also was given the 1950s precursor to Legos, Lincoln Logs and Erector Sets. I would dump the pieces out on my basement floor and commence to build, but I would get frustrated when nothing I constructed looked anything as complicated as the neat pictures in the directions booklets. I was probably able to make a facsimile of Lincoln’s log-cabin home, but even as a kid, I realized Abe’s childhood abode was as historically described as, “simple.”
Of course, in the late ‘50s era, I received toys that required parental assembly, instead of Lincoln Logs’ kid’s assembly. Dad, a dentist, never was a noted toy assembler. I remember that he called in a patient to help assemble multi-part toys. Hands-on household problems, big or little were never a priority with dad. Unlike me, dad’s tool collection could not fit in a drawer, but he had no workbench, and I never remember him crafting anything. His precise drilling was just employed on teeth
Around this 2nd grade and 3rd grade time, my dad’s friends would ask me if I wanted to grow up to be a dentist. Of course, wanting to emulate dad and not disappoint my questioners, I always said, “Sure.” I couldn’t then associate not tying my shoes with expertly handling the drill and the Novocain needle. I pushed the fact that Novocain could hurt to the back of my mind. Afterall, patients seemed to like dad. Besides I already knew how to feed the office’s tropical fish.
My lack of special orientation never interfered with pure academics through elementary school. I might have gotten a bad grade in art, but it was only an enrichment-type class with no specific evaluation. I could have gotten down-graded in phys-ed for being out of sync in line dances, as I just went reeling through the Virginia Reel. I may have required extra cursive writing help, as my fine motor skills didn’t always operate on all cylinders in those days. But in reading, social studies, science and even math I was a good student, as exasperated teachers could not mark down for my messy desk.
In 7th grade, now in junior high, geometry reared its evil, six-sided head. I was acing all my tests until we began studying calculating areas of shapes, I was shocked outright when my teacher slapped down a test with a “D” attached to it. How could this happen? Then I realized geometry invoked from me fuzzy thinking. Still, I managed to get an “A- “overall in 7th grade math, and a “B” in eighth-grade math due to a heavier geometry concentration, and a luckily “B in 11th grade, after a battle with my nemesis, Euclid.
By the time I graduated high school, I had figured out that all these individual special/perceptual shortcomings were not just one-offs, but in fact, were examples of some sort of inherent glitch in my cognition that was detrimental to any hands-on endeavor. Thus, when family friends asked if I was going pre-dental in college, I said that I was more interested in matriculating in English. I didn’t utter this regretfully, as I was looking forward to majoring in English. But first, in college, I had to get past geology.
My high school’s earth science course directed me towards geology. Earth science was the course that the lower track kids took in my high school in lieu of the real science courses like biology and chemistry. I had imagined that you memorized some rock names and dug up some dirt and that was it. Unfortunately, geology was real science and not for dummies. It turned out that the earth had a lot of obscure cross-sections that had to be visually memorized and reproduced on a test. This was above my spatial relationship pay grade and resulted in an “F.”
At age 68 dad moved on from dentistry, but he did not then take up crafting canoes or hand designing birdhouses. He had good people skills, always being happy to schmooze. This interest and a talent for leadership propelled him to be involved in community service as he was president of his Kiwanis Club and my little league What better 2nd career field to go into than real estate sales which dad did once he passed the broker’s exam.
My ultimate career choice was computer programming. I was in IT from 1977 to 2014. The job played to my strengths, the math-like thinking resembled Boolean algebra, not geometry. I was never asked to code Tetris so I was always in two dimensions. Being basically introverted, sales and teaching never appealed to me. I anticipated that there were no special curveballs in programming and there never were as I avoided the spatial, graphic user interface programming that exploded at my career’s end. In fact, I was a solid IT professional until I got laid off after 37 years.
My dad passed away in 2013 at 95. When he was in his late 80s and early 90s, our relationship was mostly carried out on weekends, sitting across from each other in Dad’s senior living apartment and later his assisted living room. Not surprisingly, from his recliner, dad did a lot of reflecting. In the page-turning of these memories, there were scrapbooks of regret. His life currency was friends as much as cash and so he was always complaining about his business partners who let him down in a real estate deal, including his best friend.
The most surprising reflection was the time he said, “I lost money in my dental practice because I didn’t have the skills to do complicated stuff.” I immediately appreciated and sympathized with what he was confessing, albeit my deficits were at the change-the-lightbulb level, and dad’s at a build a root canal level. We both had faced similar life constraints. Dad’s had affected his livelihood, mine everything but my livelihood.
Believe it or not, in his late 70s, Dad got a 2nd chance job opportunity in dentistry that was hands-off. He became the head of dental health for a section of the Mass. State prison system. Though this slot sounds like a script for a bad TV movie, he loved being a prison dentist because it played into his leadership and people skills. He hired the dentists but didn’t practice any dentistry. I realized how well regarded he was in this slot when he maintained his position when the dental services were privatized and when several of his staff came to his 90th birthday party.
Truly then, occupationally dad and I had found jobs that emphasized our positive dimensions, by finding jobs that de-emphasized three dimensions. This was a victory over familial un-handiness.