Saturday, September 03, 2005

Like Father, Like Son?

My son, now 16, has always hated having two scientists for parents. When he was in fifth grade, his science teacher assigned a worksheet from a major educational publishing company (I won't say which one) that said, in part, "There is no gravity in outer space." Poppycock. There bloody well better be gravity in outer space, or the planets are going to careening off into the interstellar void. At the orbit of the space shuttle (200 km or so), gravity is something like 92% of what it is on the surface of the Earth. Even NASA screws it up by referring to freefall (the proper term) as "microgravity"*. My wife and I wrote a three-page letter to his teacher explaining exactly why astronauts appear to float (anyone wants the full explanation for this, let me know) and why there is in fact gravity in space. My son dutifully carried the letter to school and apologetically gave it to his teacher. His teachers quickly came to dread seeing an envelope in my son's hand...

As you might expect, with two scientist-parents, my son soon declared he was in no shape or form going to enter any science or science-related fields. He said he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life; all he knew for sure was that he was not going to follow in our footsteps. And really, that's not that uncommon a response. My dad is an engineer, and while it's true that I went to college and became an engineer as well, that was only because the Navy required me to major in a technical field. When I was in high school I wanted to be a music major until I decided that I also wanted to eat. Most kids, though, really have no desire to follow their parents' careers -- they want a life and identity of their own. I understand that and I don't have a problem with that.

Recently, however, my son has declared that he wants to be a professional writer. Now, he knows that I am a writer, but because most of my writing was about science and education, he's never really seen me as the kind of writer he envisions himself being. Last year he took a creative writing class at school and discovered that he absolutely loves it. And here's the kicker: The kid is good. Yes, he still has a long way to go to master the craft of writing: grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. But even at this early age, he's got a voice. A darn good voice. The craft can be taught. But you're either born with the art or you develop through long years of trial and error. My son, it seems, was born with it.

I'm proud of my boy. Any parent is proud of their kid, but this kind of pride would be there even if he wasn't my son -- and the fact that he is my son makes it even better. What I find endlessly fascinating, though, is that he and I have both basically turned away from a science career to pursue ... the same career. In a sense we're following in each others' footsteps, rebelling in the same direction. His tastes in fiction (reading and writing) are very different from mine -- he tends towards the "modern fantasy" genre, whereas I tend towards hard science fiction -- but the craft is the same for all of us. It's almost as if we both walked into the same Masonic lodge and were surprised to find the other as an initiate. It's a neat feeling. He's got a long way to go, sure, but I think he's got the raw talent. It will be fun to watch it bloom...

*And they get smug when they correct people for using the term "weightless." Hypocrites.

No comments: