My Changing Father Bruce McCorkill March 2014
This tale is dedicated to anyone of any age, gender, race, nationality or creed, who has suffered problems understanding how to operate computers, remote controls, phone answering machines, mobile phones, digital cameras, or any other electronic device designed to save us time, but which instead gives us grief and angst.
I was taken aback at his reaction.
“What do you mean, ‘you can’t do it.’ I just showed you how, it’s easy. Let’s go through it again, I’ll write down the instructions, don’t worry you’ll get to love it. Think of what you can do with it.”
He looked at me, in a mildly sorrowful way. “I’m sorry Bruce, I just can’t understand this thing, I can’t see how it works, there’s no keys hitting the ball, where’s the ribbon? Where’s the return lever? What do all these cords do? How do you move the paper forward? What’s this big printer thing, where does the paper go? How do you put the white out on?” And other querulous questions.
“For God’s sake Dad, it’s a word processor. It doesn’t need those old fashioned things, it does it all for you. All you do is type.”
All Dad could say was “I don’t like it, don’t understand it, I like my old Remington portable.” Then in a defiant way, “At my age I’m not going to learn how to use it. I appreciate what you’re doing son, it’s to help my writing I know, but please take it away. I’m quite happy with what I’ve got.”
All I could do was to pack it up and take it away. Wondering what I could do with it. I couldn’t take it back. But the realisation dawned that page had been turned in my father’s life, and in my mind.
Dad spent his life doing a job he never liked. Like many of his generation, whose parents had survived a depression, his father signed him up for a steady trade, and he became a toolmaker, spending forty years working in various factories. This was a shame, because he was intelligent, and had the potential for more.
I guess like many people in those days, the priority was security, rather than achieving their full potential.
After Dad retired, he thrived and tried to achieve this. He joined a camera club and won prizes, a garden club and grew orchids. His passion had always been reading and writing, so he started to enthusiastically write. He joined writing groups, entered local short story competitions and really enjoyed this new activity.
My role became that of his editor. I would visit him on Friday nights and read his latest story, offering suggestions for improvements. Today, I occasionally get his writing collection out and review them. From my experience of writing they are not bad at all. Somewhat a formal old fashioned style, but a lot of humour and wit.
I gradually became frustrated, because all his work was done on an old Remington portable. Mistakes or improvements were by retyping the whole story or using white out. Second copies were done by carbon paper. This brought back memories of my early jobs, but now I was thinking from the perspective of working for a government department, containing the latest in technical wizardry.
Sometimes I would suggest he buy a word processor, but he always refused. I would point out the benefits of being able to change the format of a whole story, insert new paragraphs, change the fonts, print multiple copies and so on. Even the prospect of being able to win more competitions could not convince him at the age of eighty to change.
I used to imagine how he would react if I just bought him a word processor. He would surely be grateful. Finally at work, some obsolete word processors were being auctioned, and I bought one cheaply, including a printer. These things were the precursor to modern computers, being an electric typewriter containing a floppy disc to save files to. Looking back now they were dinosaurs, but at least he would be able to save work, edit and print. I was proud of myself.
Then reality hit, when I set it up, and his negative comments came.
A number of thoughts crossed my mind. There was amazement at how he could not understand. This was my clever dad. The man who was amazingly mechanically competent. Who made an ingenious sliding mechanism to open the lounge room door, who constructed intricate clamps to hold gemstones on the grinding wheel, who constructed a central heating unit from an old hospital radiator, who serviced his own cars, who made a special sprocket to make my bike gears work, who mastered a complicated camera and took winning shots. And so on, a whole host of clever mechanical mastery over the years.
Feelings of disappointment and a little anger crept into my mind. Why could he not try harder? Did he not appreciate the effort I had gone to? The small boy in me was upset that his father was not quite what he had always been; he did have the capacity to fail.
My financial mind was turning over all sorts of scenarios. At the auction I had made a mistake. The auctioneer had started the bidding of four of these machines with the statement “buyer has the option.” Thinking this meant I had the option of buying either one or more, I keenly bid, only to find when I was the successful bidder, that I had to buy all four. So I was trying to figure out how could I sell this one to, and recoup some of my financial outlay.
Then the grown up part of me, the adult, regained control, and like the Gestalt therapist looking at all the parts, the other side, I realised that all his achievements had been in the mechanical area, not the electronics area. Some hurdles are just too high to jump, however much the thoroughbred tries and the jockey urges. It’s great to get outside of our boxes, but sometimes it’s not worth it.
I thought back to my early days in learning windows on the computer, the mouse wouldn’t do what it should, my days learning email, and the internet, even in latter years learning to work E bay and PayPal. That was hard enough, even with work training courses. Today, my grown children show me there I Phones, I Pads and notebooks and I run from the room. I’m happy with my old Nokia and big desktop computer. Like my dad, I’m content to set my own hurdle height. How will I cope when my grandchildren bring out their new electronic toys?
The day comes to us all, when our parents are no longer our parents but our children, but we still love them just as much, they are just a little bit different, not quite what they seemed a long time ago.