Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Slide Rule, and Thoughts on Father's Day

I found myself rummaging through some old boxes the other day. The reasons why do not matter, and as is often the case with random searches through one’s stored belongings, it was forgotten when I stumbled upon an object I forgot I even had. It was an old slide rule that either belonged to my father, or perhaps even his father. Everything stopped for a few moments as I held the box in my hand, and memories flooded through my mind. Touching that instrument became an instant connection with my ancestry, and with my professional heritage. Surely my father and perhaps my grandfather held this same instrument in their hands, perhaps even on a daily basis. Their presence was almost palpable.

For those of you too young to remember, the slide rule was as ubiquitous as our present day computer…anyone with a technical or scientific background (my father was an engineer and my grandfather an architect, back in the day when the architect was truly the master builder) had at least one. We have become so inured with technology and reliant on putting our questions on a keyboard, we expect an answer with accuracy to 5 or 6 decimal points in a matter of seconds. We become impatient when it takes longer…say 10 minutes. We have forgotten that many of our engineering marvels such as the Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal were designed with only a pencil, paper and a slide rule. We even put a man on the moon with little more than that.

Yet on this Father’s Day, it also reminded me of how my father provided for his family. The slide rule represented his profession and his livelihood, perhaps even his passion. Stumbling across this artifact was like finding an old photograph, maybe even more so because this was something he used every day, where a photo only captures a moment in time.

Dad will have been gone for 11 years this August, and if I consider his last years with Alzheimer’s, that time is actually longer. Yet those difficult last few years fade with time, and I remember instead the times we shared together…the Sunday drives into Yamhill County when I was learning to drive, visiting various project sites around the area, watching the Fremont and Glenn Jackson bridges under construction. They were wonderful times and I now treasure those memories. Ironically, I even treasure the arguments we had, about religion and politics. (Remember, this was the era of the Vietnam War) Yes we differed, but he taught me that it was alright to disagree about some things. His love for me never wavered.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I held the slide rule, and I realized how much I missed him…and still do. It’s an exquisite pain, though, because it is tinged with a deep joy in knowing how fortunate I was to have had a father like him. No he wasn’t perfect. None of us are, and my own fatherhood attempts certainly illustrate that. He was strict, and some of that rubbed off on me. One thing Dad did teach me though…always remember the good things. Unpleasant memories will fade away if we don’t dwell on them, and we can savor the good ones. It’s a choice we make. I think it is good advice.

Happy Father's Day, Dad.

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