What Your Parents Did (or Do)

About saying “After all, my Mom was an English teacher,” Wayne Schiess continues:

If you are a lawyer, especially a lawyer who is serious about legal writing, and especially a lawyer who teaches legal writing, this is a cool thing to be able to say. You don't even need to complete the thought. Listeners will assume that because your mother was an English teacher, she insisted that you speak correctly, that you use language precisely, and that you take writing seriously.

In reality, your English-teacher mother may have insisted on those things, and she may not have. And even if she insisted on them, you may not have learned them. So having an English-teacher mother really means . . . nothing?

He’s right. It doesn’t really mean much if anything. But I’d probably use the phrase more often myself if I taught writing.

I wonder what I’d be trying to imply if I said “My dad taught math and science”. I certainly use the “Mom/English teacher” infrequently, but the “Dad/Math & Science” less still.

If I need to describe what my Dad did, I usually instead go with “My Dad was a mad scientist”. If illustration is necessary, I tell the story of a father’s day when I was in my twenties, and I came home to see him.

Mind you, Father’s Day is the day Dad gets to do whatever he wants. Well, I find him in the study, sitting at his desk behind an oscilloscope with who knows how many yards of fiber optic cable coiled all over the room and some contraption that I can tell he’s built himself. It looks a little bit like it could have come out of one of those Buy-Your-5th-Grade-Child-A-Science-Kit, except that since he constructed it from spare wood and transistors (whatever, I don’t know what they were) that were lying around the garage, it doesn’t look quite that fancy.

Of course I have no idea what he’s doing so I ask…

Me: What are you doing?

My Dad: I’m trying to verify the speed of light.

That was at least 15 years ago, and I’m pretty sure he was retired, so it’s not like he was setting up this experiment for a Physics class. He was actually just trying to see how close he could come to figuring out (the already known) speed of light.

Well, that’s it. I haven’t the slightest idea why I wrote this post. I just thought what Wayne said was amusing and it struck a chord with me, so I started with that, and then I went off on a couple of tangents. If you knew my Dad, this post will make more sense to you.  Feel free to return to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Jamie - February 13, 2009 12:18 AM

Update: Realized I was also talking about my Dad to the coordinator and probation officer in County Court Six this morning.

I came in on the middle of their conversation, and Lanie looked up at me and was finishing off a sentence with something about "dogs" and "chocolate". She gave me that "chime in... what do you have to say about that?" look.

All I could think of was, "Um, I thought dogs weren't supposed to eat chocolate." They both laughed. My response made no sense.

I said, "That's why I try not to come in on the middle of a conversation."

Then I talked about how my Dad, who went from half to almost completely deaf in his old age was a genius at nodding his head and occasionally adding "pertinent" comments to conversations when I knew full well he could barely hear what folks were saying.

So why'd I write this post? Duh.

It's almost been ten years, but sometimes I miss my Dad. I think about him even more now that I have kids of my own.

Jamie - February 13, 2009 12:41 AM

If there's anything more lame in the blawgosphere than being the only one commenting on your own post - never mind repeatedly doing so, I can't think of it right now. That said...

I meant to say something about saying "My mother is an English teacher" being a weak argumentum ad verecundiam, that is, being the logical fallacy known as the "appeal to authority".

The tangents in my head that got this post from where it started to where it ended up are - for the most part anyway - apparent only to me.

Good thing I'm just talking to myself anyway.

Windypundit - February 13, 2009 7:54 AM

As soon I read "oscilloscope" and "yards of fiber optic cable" I knew exactly what your father was up to. I've done that speed-of-light experiment myself. It's one thing to know intellectually that the speed of light isn't really infinite like it looks, but it's a whole different experience to actually see it happen. Of course, I was in a college physics class.

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